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RIEMST, Belgium (VN) — Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) is hoping a bit of history rubs off on him this week as he continues his quest to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The Spanish rider is staying in one of the most storied hotels on the Belgian cycling circuit, in the same room where some of the biggest stars have slept during the Ardennes classics.
“Yes, I am room number 11,” Rodríguez said Tuesday. “Sometimes we feel like we should go into the room and build a shrine. It has a lot of history.”
The Hotel Malpertuus, located in Riemst about 30 minutes north of Liège, has become a favorite for Ardennes-bound teams, especially among the Italian squads racing in Belgium.
Not that riders can be superstitious, but “room 11” has become the preferred room for the top captains.
Such riders as Moreno Argentin, Michele Bartoli, Paolo Bettini, and Mario Cipollini all stayed there during some of their biggest rides.
The owner is former Belgian rider Yvo Molenaers, now 79. A pro from 1956 to 1967, his top win came at the Tour de Luxembourg in 1963. His biggest claim to fame was finishing second to Jacques Anquetil in the 1964 Ghent-Wevelgem.
After hanging up the cleats, Molenaers built a small hotel that quickly became a favorite stop among teams heading to the Ardennes.
Molenaers’ son now runs the hotel, which was renovated in 2007, and his daughter is married to Katusha sport director Valerio Piva.
This year, Katusha and Cannondale are both staying at the hotel.
“The room has had some luck,” Rodríguez said. “We were joking that maybe I could share the room for [Peter] Sagan, him for Amstel Gold and me for Liège.”
The room’s “good luck” certainly seems to be working. Rodríguez slept in it last year when he finally won Flèche Wallonne and his roommate, Dani Moreno, dashed to victory up the Mur de Huy yesterday.
The 33-year-old Rodríguez said he appreciates such details and admits he’s a student of the history of the sport, something he doesn’t see in many of his younger peers.
“Riders should have more respect for the history of the sport,” Rodríguez said. “Today, there seems to be many who take no joy of racing. Some appear just to turn their pedals, cash their check and go home.”
Of course, knowing today some of the back stories on what some of those names might have done behind closed doors, it doesn’t take much to imagine there might have been more than sleeping going on in the celebrated room 11.
Argentin won the 1994 Flèche in the infamous attack up the Mur with three Gewiss teammates that marked the nadir of the EPO era. Cipollini, who stayed there ahead of winning the 2002 world title in nearby Zolder, was outed by La Gazzetta dello Sport as one of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes’ earliest and most enthusiastic clients.
One can only hope that Rodríguez and his peers are taking the right lessons out of cycling’s history.
Rodríguez, meanwhile, is hoping to bounce back from a crash in Amstel Gold Race that left him with a deep hematoma on the back of his left leg in time to factor for the win Sunday at Liège.
On Wednesday, he said he felt better during the race and had the legs to help Moreno set up his final sprint. He finished sixth.
For “Purito,” racing is his job, but he says he takes joy in being paid to race his bike.
“I enjoy every day on the bike, whether it’s racing or training. I love it,” he said. “Of course, times like these, with injury, that it’s not so nice, but it’s part of life, part of being professional. It’s too bad I am injured during the most important week of my spring, but it will pass. I always have fun on the bike.”
Whether he gets to sleep in room 11 next year remains to be seen. Having your sport director married to the owner’s daughter certainly doesn’t hurt.