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Albasini is GreenEdge’s dark horse for Liège

Swiss rider has surprised in 2012 and will have some freedom at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday

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LIÈGE, Belgium (VN) — Michael Albasini once again proved his worth on Wednesday, taking second place in Belgium’s Flèche Wallonne classic. The podium spot follows a stage win in the Tour of the Basque Country and marks him as an outside favorite for Liège-Bastogne-Liège Sunday.

The Swiss said that he would have a chance to lead GreenEdge with teammate Simon Gerrans at “La Doyenne.” He is more of a second card, though, to be there if Gerrans has a bad day or is heavily marked.

“It’s a different race, it’s much longer,” Albasini told VeloNews. “He’ll be the leader; I’ll play the second card.”

Albasini cut a path through the crowd after the podium presentation Wednesday afternoon. He wanted to find the team bus, change out of his wet and dirty clothes and explain the day to the team’s sports director, Lorenzo Lapage.

The team’s manager, Shayne Bannan, was also watching. Bannan has overseen a rocket blast to the top since his Australian team debuted in January. Gerrans won the overall at the Tour Down Under and the first of cycling’s five monuments, Milan-San Remo.

Luke Durbridge won a stage and the overall at the Circuit de la Sarthe two weeks ago and a month ago, Albasini won a stage and the overall at the Volta a Catalunya.

According to CQ Ranking, GreenEdge sits ninth at this point in the 2012 season. That’s not bad for a team that was still in its planning phase last year at this time.

“You have to be realistic; we don’t see ourselves as being a GC team for three or four years’ time,” Bannan explained at the end of last year. “Also, building a team around a GC rider is a big strain on your budget. We need time to develop one and, in the mean time, we will focus on what’s possible. We will have riders who have the abilities to win classics, stages and [the overall of] smaller stage races.”

Albasini rose through the ranks over the last decade, racing for Phonak, Liquigas and HighRoad before Bannan called. Besides a Tour de Suisse stage in 2005, he hadn’t won until last fall in the Vuelta a España’s leg to Ponferrada. This year, he’s out of the gates running with the surprise Catalunya triumph and yesterday’s second place.

Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) was the only one standing in his way atop the Mur de Huy. The Spaniard rocketed free on the steep slopes of the finish climb with 350 kilometers remaining.

“I wasn’t surprised by Rodríguez; he was super strong. There was nothing to do to beat him. Second place was the best that I could do. If you know you could’ve done better, then that’s bad,” said Albasini.

“It’s my first podium in a one-day ProTour [WorldTour] race. I’m really happy. Plus, the team supported me really well.”

Gerrans nipped Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) to take a surprise San Remo win a month ago. Albasini will go into the fourth monument of the year this weekend primarily as a key support rider, but with the chance to deliver his own surprise. It wouldn’t be the first time he has done so this season.