Vincenzo Nibali: It will be a very unusual Liege-Bastogne-Liege

He came, he smiled and took some selfies with fans, he stood on a podium and he left: Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) paid a lightning-fast visit to the Liège-Bastogne-Liège presentation on Saturday, but it was enough to garner the Sicilian some of the biggest cheers of all from the fans present and to remind his rivals that on Sunday, the Shark Of Messina will once again be on the prowl.

Last Wednesday, Nibali’s attack over the first of three ascents of the Mur effectively lit the touch paper for a series of challenges to Alejandro Valverde’s domination, and his long breakaway was instrumental in the wearing down process of the Movistar Team as well.

Nibali was caught at the foot of the final ascent of the Mur, but combined with his stunning victory in Milano-Sanremo, his high profile attack at the Tour of Flanders and his long history of Classics success, nobody is ruling out an even more sustained, dangerous attack by the Italian on Sunday.

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And Nibali received the warmest of welcomes from the crowds at Saturday’s team presentation, too. This could well be because Liège’s Italian connections are more than well established, both as a city and a race. Until very recently, Liège has had a centuries-old tradition of Italians migrating there to work in its industries, and the climb to Saint-Nicolas has long been nicknamed ‘the Italian corner’ because of the number of Nibali’s compatriots who have settled in that part of Liege.

Nibali’s relationship with Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a lengthy and intense one too, with 2018 his 13th participation. As he recounted in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport on Saturday, Liège was the first Monument he took part in and he was dropped on the Haut Levée climb, getting so tired in the process that he said, “my ears were dragging along the ground.” He finally finished the race but in 113th position, dead last on the day.

In 2012, though, Nibali was almost at the opposite end of the results sheet when he launched a dangerous late attack. He was caught and passed by Maxim Iglinskiy on the drag towards the finish in Ans, however, with the Italian finally settling for second. And although Nibali says that losing to Iglinskiy was a defeat that “still burns”, it was also an indicator of what he was capable of doing in a race like Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

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Richie Porte: I’m not putting too much pressure on myself at Tour de Romandie

Richie Porte will toe the start line at the Tour de Romandie on Tuesday as the defending champion but says he has more modest ambitions this time around. His teammate Tejay van Garderen will join BMC‘s line-up for the six-day race as the pair continue their preparation for the Tour de France in July.

“I’m not putting too much pressure on myself heading into the Tour de Romandie this year as I don’t really know where my form is,” Porte said. “However, while I have more modest ambitions this year, it is a race I enjoy so I will be going there ready to give 100%. Overall, I think we have a good group of riders lining up so, I am looking forward to getting started.

Porte and van Garderen already teamed up at the Tour du Finistère on April 14, where the final kilometres of the course will also be used during stage 5 of the Tour de France from Lorient to Quimper. They used the one-day race as an opportunity to preview those kilometres, and important climbs: Côte de la Montagne de Locronan, Notre-Dame de Lorette and Kerlividic before finishing in Quimper, at race pace.

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At Tour de Romandie, Porte and van Garderen will be joined by Tom Bohli, Kilian Frankiny, Joey Rosskopf, Danilo Wyss and Rohan Dennis, who will make his final preparations for the Giro d’Italia.

The race starts with a prologue on April 24, followed by two ‘classic’ stages. There is a 9.9km time trial from Ollon to Villars on stage 3 that could set the tone for the overall classification, followed by the queen stage 4 in Sion that covers five mountain passes. The race will conclude on April 29 in Geneva.

BMC’s director Fabio Baldato said he put together a well-rounded team where Porte will be the designated team leader, and van Garderen, too, will be protected for the mountain stage and overall classification.

“We will go into the race with Richie Porte as our leader. Looking at the parcours, I think the time trial will be important and we will see what the situation is when we reach that,” he said in a team press release.

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Gilbert: There aren’t 40 different ways of winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Philippe Gilbert will once again race as capitaine de route for Quick-Step Floors and their young protegé Julian Alaphilippe on Sunday, and the veteran Belgian star’s key lesson concerning Liège-Bastogne-Liège is that “there aren’t 40 different ways of winning it.”

“In the Ardennes Classics, it’s very clear. It’s different to the Flemish Classics where lots of different factors can have an effect. Here, if you race intelligently, you know you’ll be up there,” Gilbert told reporters on Friday. “I always say that these are the easiest races to win when you are going well. You almost know before you start if you are going to win.

“The most straightforward strategy is not to lose sight of Valverde, because he’s the big favourite, with all his experience of racing here. He’s seen it all before, and what’s more he’s a rider who never loses his cool.

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“He was beaten fair and square by Julian on Wednesday, but he won’t be looking for revenge when he puts on his race number on Sunday. He’ll be looking to win, just like he has been doing all season.”

Gilbert is one of just two riders, together with Jos Van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo), who is lining out in all four Monuments this spring. But after two years away from Liège-Bastogne-Liège because of injuries, the Belgian was keen to take part in La Doyenne again. It is a race which Gilbert won in 2011 and in which he had taken part every year from 2003, when he turned pro, up until 2015.

“I’m a bit on the limit, particularly after so many Classics were held in bad weather,” Gilbert said. “I noticed that on Wednesday, but I could still do my work for the team, and that’ll hopefully be the case again on Sunday.

You can read more at Cyclingnews.com