By Kip Mikler, VeloNews editor, in Liège
It seems the Italians have gotten it together. With a savvy one-two punch by Paolo Bettini and Stefano Garzelli of the Mapei-Quick Step machine at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, Italy, which struggled slightly in the World Cup and one-day classics last year, made a smashing return to the top on the back of the 5-foot 6-inch Italian powerhouse.
Inspired by the Italian flags flying in Saint-Nicolas, a tough Italian-flavored neighborhood overlooking the ancient city of Liège, Bettini put the icing on the cake, joining his teammate Garzelli in an attack with less than 10km to go in the 258.5km race.
“This victory is for the whole team,” said Bettini, who repeated his win of two years ago at Liege, the oldest of the spring classics, now in its 88th edition. The victory was also the third of four World Cups in 2002 to be won by an Italian.
But there’s more to the story of Italy’s resurgence than Bettini alone. Start with his teammate, Garzelli, who actually initiated the winning move when he attacked on the Côte de Saint Nicolas, the last of 10 major hills in the grueling six-and-a-half hour race through the valleys and towns of the Ardennes region.
Behind Garzelli, who shook hands with Bettini a few kilometers before the finish when there was no doubt that his attack had shattered everyone but his Mapei mate, three more Italians rounded out the top five: Ivan Basso (Fassa Bortolo), Mirko Celestino (Saeco) and Massimo Codol (Lampre-Daikin).
Bettini said the team will work for Garzelli at the upcoming Giro d’Italia, but Liege is his. “It’s my course,” he said of the one classic many consider the top prize.
The final six riders to enter the Saint Nicolas came from a group of 13 that attacked before the legendary La Redoute climb, the 2.3km climb on narrow road that comes 33km from the finish and is often the scene of the final shakedown.
It was this move of 13 that finally ended a marathon 210km escape by Frenchman Fabrice Salanson of the Bonjour team. Salanson and Telekom rider Andreas Klöden went away just 15km into the race and gained a maximum lead of a little more than 22 minutes before the real climbs began in the village of Houffalize at 80 kilometers.
Heading up the first climb out of Houffalize, the narrow Rue St. Roch, where Sunday morning festivities were in full effect as spectators packed the streets to enjoy the unusually warm spring weather, the two escapees still had 20 minutes of daylight.
When the field squeezed its way between the old brick houses and up the narrow ascent, with Domo-Farm Frites rider Freddy Rodriguez showing his stars-and-stripes U.S. champion’s jersey near the front, there was a more serious mood in the air. The morning stroll through the green hills was apparently over.
The gap quickly dropped and soon Kloden was struggling to stay with Salanson. When the German was finally dropped, the gap now around five minutes, Telekom veteran Udo Bolts set off from the field in pursuit of Salanson. Russian Denis Menchov (iBanesto.com) also tried to chase, but by now the Italian posse was getting feisty. Before the base of La Redoute, the group of 13 made its move.
By the top of the climb, with 33km to go, seven riders — Bettini, Garzelli, Basso, Codol, Celestino, Alessandro Spezialetti (Saeco-Longoni Sport) and Mathias Kessler (Telekom) — were beginning to take control of the race. Six Italians, one German.
U.S. Postal leader Lance Armstrong was counting on the race coming down to a move at the end, but when his teammate George Hincapie saw the stacked Italian deck, he didn’t like it.
“George was right,” said Armstrong. “He was concerned when that move went away.
Several riders, including Armstrong, tried to chase, but nothing materialized. “I wasn’t good enough today, but I didn’t expect to be,” Armstrong said.
Hincapie would end up finishing in a group 1:27 back, in 20th place, the top for an American. The Postal rider slid into sixth place overall in the World Cup, one spot ahead of Rodriguez.
On the next climb, the Côte du Sart-Tilman, the lead group had a gap of nearly a minute, and was opening it up.
All that was left was for the Mapei duo to make its move in Saint Nicolas.
Earlier in the day, in the rolling hills and valleys of the Ardennes, the names painted on the roads were those of Merckx, Verbrugghe, even a few for Armstrong. In Saint Nicolas, however, it was all Italian.
And on his course, Bettini did ‘em right.
Related StoriesLiège-Bastogne-Liège: LiveupdatesMerckx: “Liègeis the most beautiful classic.”Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Anepic in the offing?Liège-Bastogne-Liège – StartlistCare to comment on the race or the coverage? Dropus a line.
1. BETTINI Paolo, (I), MAP, 6:39:44;
2. GARZELLI Stefano, (I), MAP, at 00:00;
3. BASSO Ivan, (I), FAS, at 00:15;
4. CELESTINO Mirko, (I), SAE, at 00:23;
5. CODOL Massimo, (I), LAM, at 00:28;
6. KESSLER Matthias, (G), TEL, at 00:35;
7. VAN PETEGEM Peter, (B), LOT, at 01:03;
8. CASAGRANDE Francesco, (I), FAS, at 01:03;
9. REBELLIN Davide, (I), GST, at 01:03;
10. VINOKOUROV Alexandre, (Kz), TEL, at 01:03;
11. MANCEBO PEREZ Francisco, (Sp), BAN, at 01:03;
12. SERRANO RODRIGUEZ Marcos A., (Sp), ONE, at 01:03;
13. BOOGERD Michael, (Nl), RAB, at 01:03;
14. KIVILEV Andrei, (Kz), COF, at 01:03;
15. BRUYLANDTS Dave, (B), DFF, at 01:03;
16. MERCKX Axel, (B), DFF, at 01:08;
17. SORENSEN Nicki, (Dk), CST, at 01:14;
18. AERTS Mario, (B), LOT, at 01:27;
19. BROCHARD Laurent, (F), DEL, at 01:27;
20. HINCAPIE George, (USA), USP, at 01:27;
21. MAZZANTI Luca, (I), MER, at 01:27;
22. FREIRE GOMEZ Oscar, (Sp), MAP, at 01:27;
23. LUTTENBER (G) Peter, (A), TAC, at 01:27;
24. JAKSCHE Jorg, (G), ONE, at 01:27;
25. VERBRUGGHE Rik, (B), LOT, at 01:27;
26. MOREAU Christophe, (F), C.A, at 01:27;
27. FARAZIJN Peter, (B), COF, at 01:27;
28. HEPPNER Jens, (G), TEL, at 01:27;
29. MAZZOLENI Eddy, (I), TAC, at 01:27;
30. BOUYER Franck, (F), BJR, at 01:27;
31. HUSER Rolf, (Swi), COA, at 01:27;
32. GARATE Juan Manuel, (Sp), LAM, at 01:27;
33. HALGAND Patrice, (F), DEL, at 01:27;
34. DI LUCA Danilo, (I), SAE, at 01:27;
35. AZEVEDO Jose, POR, ONE, at 01:27;
36. BELLI Wladimir, (I), FAS, at 01:27;
37. EVANS Cadel, (Aus), MAP, at 01:27;
38. SCIANDRI Maximilian, (GB), LAM, at 01:27;
39. RUMSAS Raimondas, (Lit), LAM, at 01:27;
40. FLECHA GIANNONI Juan Antonio, (Sp), BAN, at 01:27;
41. JIMENEZ SANCHEZ Eladio, (Sp), BAN, at 01:27;
42. GIANETTI Mauro, (Swi), COA, at 01:27;
43. GUSTOV Volodymir, UKR, FAS, at 01:27;
44. OSA EIZAGUIRRE Aitor, (Sp), BAN, at 01:42;
45. MISSAGLIA Gabriele, (I), LAM, at 01:42;
46. HAMILTON Tyler, (USA), CST, at 01:51;
47. FARESIN Gianni, (I), GST, at 02:11;
48. BOLTS Udo, (G), TEL, at 02:19;
49. VASSEUR Cédric, (F), COF, at 02:27;
50. ETXEBARRIA ALKORTA David, (Sp), EUS, at 02:27;
51. BRANDT Christophe, (B), LOT, at 02:27;
52. VERHEYEN Geert, (B), RAB, at 02:27;
53. VANDE VELDE Christian, (USA), USP, at 02:33;
54. ZBERG Markus, (Swi), RAB, at 02:37;
55. NARDELLO Daniele, (I), MAP, at 02:42;
56. NOE Andrea, (I), MAP, at 02:42;
57. ASTARLOA Igor, (Sp), SAE, at 02:42;
58. ETXEBARRIA ARANA Unai, VEN, EUS, at 03:55;
59. BARTOLI Michele, (I), FAS, at 03:55;
60. BROZYNA Thomas, POL, BAN, at 04:29;
61. FRIGO Dario, (I), TAC, at 05:01;
62. DONATI Massimo, (I), TAC, at 05:01;
63. BARBERO Sergio, (I), LAM, at 05:01;
64. MOOS Alexandre, (Swi), PHO, at 08:07;
65. ARMSTRONG Lance, (USA), USP, at 08:12;
66. MUNOZ David, (Sp), KEL, at 08:12;
67. RASTELLI Ellis, (I), GST, at 08:12;
68. PAOLINI Luca, (I), MAP, at 08:38;
69. BUXHOFER Matthias, (A), PHO, at 08:38;
70. ZAMPIERI Steve, (Swi), TAC, at 08:38;
71. KONECNY Tomas, (Cz), DFF, at 08:38;
72. ZUMSTEG Lukas, (Swi), PHO, at 08:38;
73. DE GROOTE Thierry, (B), PAL, at 08:38;
74. JULICH Bobby, (USA), TEL, at 08:38;
75. BENETEAU Walter, (F), BJR, at 08:38;
76. SCHNIDER Daniel, (Swi), PHO, at 08:38;
77. CHRISTENSEN Bekim, (Dk), COA, at 08:38;
78. IVANOV Serguei, (Rus), FAS, at 08:38;
79. STANGELJ Gorazd, (Slo), FAS, at 08:38;
80. DE WOLF Steve, (B), DFF, at 08:38;
81. VELO Marco, (I), FAS, at 08:38;
82. KASHECHKIN Andrey, (Kz), DFF, at 08:38;
83. GIL PEREZ Koldo, (Sp), BAN, at 08:38;
84. DE WAELE Bert, (B), LAN, at 08:38;
85. LEFEVRE Laurent, (F), DEL, at 08:38;
86. CLINGER David, (USA), USP, at 08:38;
87. LEUKEMANS Björn, (B), PAL, at 08:38;
88. CARUSO Giampaolo, (I), ONE, at 08:38;
89. BESSY Frédéric, (F), C.A, at 08:38;
90. ISASI FLORES Inaki, (Sp), EUS, at 08:38;
91. STRAUSS Marcel, (Swi), GST, at 08:38;
92. MENCHOV Denis, (Rus), BAN, at 08:38;
93. MATTAN Nico, (B), COF, at 08:38;
94. POILVET Benoît, (F), C.A, at 08:38;
95. ZÜLLE Alex, (Swi), COA, at 08:38;
96. RUBIERA VIGIL Jose Luis, (Sp), USP, at 08:38;
97. BAGUET Serge, (B), LOT, at 08:38;
98. VICIOSO ARCOS Angel, (Sp), KEL, at 08:38;
99. PERON Andrea, (I), CST, at 08:38;
100. HIEKMANN Torsten, (G), TEL, at 08:38;
101. TRENTIN Guido, (I), COF, at 08:38;
102. PIIL Jakob Storm, (Dk), CST, at 08:38;
103. LEIPHEIMER Levi, (USA), RAB, at 08:38;
104. BOVEN Jan, (Nl), RAB, at 08:38;
105. SPEZIALETTI Alessandro, (I), SAE, at 08:38;
106. SALANSON Fabrice, (F), BJR, at 08:54;
107. THIJS Erwin, (B), PAL, at 15:12;
108. HERVE Cédric, (F), C.A, at 15:12;
109. LOTZ Marc, (Nl), RAB, at 15:12;
110. WUYTS Peter, (B), PAL, at 15:12;
111. SCHMIDT Torsten, (G), GST, at 15:12;
112. KJAERGAARD Steffen, NOR, USP, at 15:12;
113. PADRNOS Pavel, (Cz), USP, at 15:12;
114. HASELBACHER René, (A), GST, at 15:12;
115. MARTINEZ DE ESTEBAN Egoi, (Sp), EUS, at 15:56;
116. FORNACIARI Paolo, (I), MAP, at 19:36;
117. GUILBERT Charles, (F), BJR, at 19:36;
118. CORTINOVIS Alessandro, (I), LAM, at 19:36;
119. ZABALLA GUTIERREZ Constantino, (Sp), KEL, at 19:36;
120. TANKINK Bram, (Nl), DFF, at 19:36;
121. CONTRINI Daniele, (I), GST, at 19:36;
122. THIBOUT Bruno, (F), DEL, at 20:03;
123. LAUKKA Joona, (Fin), DEL, at 20:03;
124. CUNEGO Damiano, (I), SAE, at 20:03;
125. PEPOLI Cristian, (I), SAE, at 20:03;
World Cup standings (after 4 of 10 events);
1. MUSEEUW Johan, (B), DOMO-FARM FRITES, 170;
2. CIPOLLINI Mario, (I), ACQUA & SAPONE CANTINA TOLLO, 120;
3. BETTINI Paolo, (I), MAPEI-QUICK STEP, 110;
4. TAFI Andrea, (I), MAPEI-QUICK STEP, 109;
5. VAN PETEGEM Peter, (B), LOTTO-ADECCO, 89;
6. HINCAPIE George, (USA), US POSTAL SERVICE, 88;
7. RODRIGUEZ Fred, (USA), DOMO-FARM FRITES, 79;
8. GARZELLI Stefano, (I), MAPEI-QUICK STEP, 70;
9. WESEMANN Steffen, (G), TEAM TELEKOM, 70;
10. PLANCKAERT Jo, (B), COFIDIS, 55;
11. BOONEN Tom, (B), US POSTAL SERVICE, 52;
12. ZBERG Markus, (Swi), RABOBANK, 51;
13. BASSO Ivan, (I), FASSA BORTOLO, 50;
14. MICHAELSEN Lars, (Dk), TEAM COAST, 49;
15. CASSANI Enrico, (I), DOMO-FARM FRITES, 46;
16. CELESTINO Mirko, (I), SAECO – LONGONI SPORT, 40;
17. HOFFMAN Tristan, (Nl), TEAM CSC TISCALI, 40;
18. FREIRE GOMEZ Oscar, (Sp), MAPEI-QUICK STEP, 40;
19. CODOL Massimo, (I), LAMPRE DAIKIN, 36;
20. NARDELLO Daniele, (I), MAPEI-QUICK STEP, 36