After mixed results, Valverde hoping to pull one out at Liege

Ardennes rookie Nairo Quintana and Rui Costa will support the Spanish veteran as he chases a third Liège–Bastogne–Liège title

MAASTRICHT, The Netherlands (VN) — Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is hoping to finish off a promising yet frustrating Ardennes week with victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.

Second at the Amstel Gold Race and seventh at Flèche Wallonne, Valverde is hungry for more. The 33-year-old Spaniard is hoping for a big ride Sunday after a less-than-expected showing on Wednesday.

“The sensations are going and we’re ready for Liège,” Valverde said. “I was better at Amstel than at Flèche. I hope to be better at Liège. It’s the race I like more.”

Valverde has twice won Liège (2006 and 2008), but was flat is the Ardennes during his comeback season following a two-year ban for links to the Operación Puerto doping scandal. “La Doyenne” is the Valverde’s top priority for the first half of 2013.

Movistar director José Luís Jaimerena told VeloNews that Valverde is doubly motivated for Sunday following his close calls this week.

“Alejandro wasn’t in the best position up the Mur de Huy, and it cost him a chance for the win,” Jaimerena said. “The long distance and longer climbs of Liège suit him better. We’re still confident Alejandro will be right there for the win.”

Jaimerena expects a wide-open race on Sunday, especially with what he sees as a lack of a true favorite.

“There is no one like (Philippe) Gilbert was in 2011, or (Peter) Sagan in the northern classics. There are a dozen guys who can win on Sunday,” he said. “That will make for an open race. That’s good for us, because we have a few cards to play.”

Those other cards are Colombian Nairo Quintana, an Ardennes rookie, and Rui Costa, the Portuguese man-o-war who can go the distance.

Quintana, hot off overall victory at the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) earlier this month, is just getting his first taste of the hilly Ardennes. While no one expects him to win on Sunday, Jaimerena said the pint-size Colombian continues to deliver surprises.

“It’s only his second year as a pro, and his first time racing here, but look at what he’s done already,” he said. “He’s here to taste the climbs, to get a feel for the racing. The classics are the most nervous races of the year, and that’s cost him a little bit so far. Liège is less nervous than Amstel and Flèche, so he should do better.”

Costa, meanwhile, hit the deck last weekend at Amstel Gold, his second major fall of the season after crashing out of Paris-Nice in March.

“He was feeling the effects of the crash Wednesday, but he should be ok for Sunday,” Jaimerena said. “We’re hoping he will be better, but it’s true that his crashes have cost him in the early part of the season.”

With riders like Sergio Henao (Sky) and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) in the mix, there could very well be a Spanish-speaking winner in Ans on Sunday. Movistar is just hoping he’s wearing blue.