A Maxim surprise

Raise your hand if you had tipped Maxim Iglinsky as the Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner prior to the race. No one wants to lift his hand? No wonder, the Kazakh of team Astana started the race with only 66 to 1 odds.

Iglinsky’s win was a surprise, but not so much when you consider his team had three riders in the main chase group. After Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) attacked over the Côte de La Roche aux Faucons, Astana had Iglinsky, Robert Kiserlovski and Amstel Gold winner, Enrico Gasparotto in the group behind. His bid was similar to Servais Knaven in the 2001 Paris-Roubaix, one based on numbers. (Remember, Knaven had three Domo-Farm Frites team-mates, including Johan Museeuw.)

Maxim Iglinsky (Astana( winning Liege Bastogne Liege 2012

Iglinsky attacked at 11.2 kilometres remaining and dropped Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) on the Saint Nicolas climb. He caught and passed Nibali with 1.3 kilometres left, at the foot of the climb in Ans.

“A surprise?” Iglinsky responded to a question in Italian. “I didn’t think I could catch Nibali because he was looking very smooth on the pedals. When I caught him, I saw that he was struggling.

“It was a big surprise [to win]. I was thinking about the second place, but when I saw I was getting closer to him, I started to believe and I attacked again.”

Iglinsky is one of Alexander Vinokourov’s soldiers. They live and train in Monaco and follow Vino’s advice. Last year, Vinokourov told Iglinsky to get himself in order and realise his potential. Now, his career seems to be made. This win easily eclipses his Strade Bianche win in 2010 or the stage in Dauphiné Libéré in 2007.

“Vinokourov called me this morning and told me that he thought I could win, and I did,” Iglinsky added. “We’ll have a big party in Kazakhstan!”

Nibali close to sealing the deal

Nibali’s Liège ride pulled at fans’ heartstrings. They loved his attack, his dare-devil descent down La Roche and his gutsy solo move.

“It’s a shame,” he told Italy’s Rai television. “I believed in myself up until the point that I saw Iglinsky. I tried to stay on his wheel, but…”

“Hats off to Iglinsky, he was strong,” team manager, Roberto Amadio explained. “Nibali, though, showed maturity. I think he’s going to enjoy a good season, up until the final month.”

Vincenzo Nibali leading up Cote de Saint-Nicolas

The Sicilian oozes quality. He won the mountain stage at the Tour of Oman and the Tirreno-Adriatico overall this year.

He has Grand Tour creds, too. In 2010, he held off Ezequiel Mosquera in the final days of the Vuelta a España, including the Bola del Mundo stage, to win the overall. He placed third in the Giro d’Italia earlier in the year while helping Ivan Basso win the overall title. The last time he raced the Tour de France in 2009, he placed seventh. His goal is to win the Tour de France this year. Ahead of Liège, he said, “I’ll be hard, but that’s the goal.”

Nibali will race the Tour of California in May and the Critérium du Dauphiné in June to be ready for the Tour. In the next days, he’ll finalise his new contract for 2013 and beyond.

“We still need to finalise some details, but in essence, the economical part, we are there,” Nibali told sports newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport. His contract is reported to be for two years at €1.8m (AUS2.29m) annually. BMC Racing and Astana are reportedly offering €500,000 extra, but Nibali has strong ties to Liquigas. He joined the Italian team after his freshman year with Fassa Bortolo in 2005.

Flèche champ, Rodríguez slips away

“I did my best in order to win,” Spain’s Rodríguez said in a press release after Liège–Bastogne–Liège. “I tried, but I cracked.”

Joaquin Rodriguez out-sprinting Philippe Gilbert to take the title of 2012 Fleche Wallonne.

He said that it had been a great week regardless. Only four days earlier, he destroyed the field in Flèche Wallonne. Down the road in Huy, on the final of three ascents of the city’s climb, the Mur de Huy, he shot free. It was unlike Cadel Evans’ win two years ago and more like Philippe Gilbert’s last year, as he went “early” at 350 metres out.

He explained in the winner’s press conference, “I’ve been second in Amstel, second in Flèche, second in Liège. I’ve always said I’d trade all those seconds for one win. Now I got it.”

Romandie welcomes Tour hopefuls Evans, Wiggins

The Tour de Romandie this week transitions cycling to the Grand Tours and features some of the top names who will compete in the Tour de France. Cadel Evans, Richie Porte and Bradley Wiggins are racing the week-long Swiss stage race.

Evans won the race last year in his run-up to the Tour. He told the Sydney Morning Herald, ”With my infection, I won’t be at the same level of competitiveness. But I hope to be there for the hardest stages. I will take it day-by-day.” BMC Racing will likely race for American Tejay Van Garderen.

Paris-Nice winner, Wiggins will ride with Sky team-mates Porte and Mark Cavendish. The race will be a test run for the Tour, where Wiggo wants to win the GC and Cavendish wants stages.

“The biggest problem I see is the management,” Stephen Roche told Great Britain’s Telegraph earlier this year. “They’ve got a headache.”

Stages:
Prologue: April 24, Lausanne ITT, 3.4km
Stage 1: April 25, Morges – La Chaux-de-Fonds, 184.5km
Stage 2: April 26, Montbéliard – Moutier, 149.1km
Stage 3: April 27, La Neuveville – Charmey, 157.6km
Stage 4: April 28, Bulle – Sion, 184.0km
Stage 5: April 29, Crans-Montana ITT, 16.5km

Bruyneel upset with Schlecks

The Schleck brothers, Andy and Fränk reconnoitred the Tour de France stages around Liège in the days before the Tour de France. They need to please their new boss, Johan Bruyneel.

The Belgian is responsible for nine Tour wins with Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador. He joined the Schlecks’ Leopard team over the winter, but hasn’t been impressed so far.

“I’m not happy with how the classics went,” he told Belgian newspaper, Het Laatste Nieuws. “We had bad luck with Fabian Cancellara in the cobbled classics, but I expected more in the Ardennes, especially in Liège. Fränk Schleck was frozen, though.

“It’s best to draw a line here, analysis it and improve.”

Kreuziger ready to win Giro

“The Giro win is not a dream,” Astana team manager, Giuseppe Martinelli told La Gazzetta dello Sport. Roman Kreuziger, he said, can go to the Giro and the Vuelta to win.

The Czech has prepared by riding selected climbs, ones he doesn’t know well or ones he’s never ridden. However, bad weather in Europe has limited his ability to climb the big passes.

Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas - Doimo), time trial Stage 19 Tour de France 2010

The Giro d’Italia starts in Denmark on May 5 and ends in Italy with a series of mountain stages, including on up the Stelvio.

Giro TTT: BMC Racing vs GreenEDGE

Marco Pinotti will lead BMC Racing at thecc with an eye on the team time trial. He helped HTC-Highroad win it last year in Turin.

“We won the even in Trentino,” General Manager, Jim Ochowicz said, “and that’s a good sign.”

BMC will go head-to-head with GreenEDGE in the fourth leg in Verona. GreenEDGE won the opening time trial stage in Tirreno-Adriatico. It announced a strong team yesterday: Brett Lancaster, Christian Meier, Daryl Impey, Fumiyuki Beppu, Jack Bobridge, Jens Keukeleire, Matt Goss, Svein Tuft and Tomas Vaitkus.

BMC renews through 2016

Evans’ BMC Racing is guaranteed a future through 2016, the team announced on Friday.

“Our best marketing strategy is to have the best cycling team in the world,” Owner Andy Rihs said in a press release. From 2006, he helped the team grow from a third division team to win the Tour de France with Cadel Evans.

Contador accused of doping in 2005

Alberto Contador doped in 2005 while with team e Liberty Seguros, according Spanish newspaper. An unnamed team masseur saw him receive insulin injections in the Tour de France that year, reported Interviú.

Liberty Seguros “administered insulin injections to Contador at the 2005 Tour de France 2005,” said the masseur. “In fact, Eufemiano Fuentes was the team doctor.”

The masseur recalled the incident for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in May. Contador was tried last year for doping at the 2010 Tour de France and in February given a back-dated two-year ban. Contador’s lawyers successfully argued to block the masseur from the hearing.

It’s not the first time Contador was linked with doping and Fuentes. A raid of the Spanish doctor’s offices and discover of blood bags set off Operación Puerto in May 2006. The team was forced out of the Tour on the eve of its departure and its manager, Manolo Saiz was arrested.

Insulin is a hormone that regulates the body’s sugar consumption. It’s abused by athletes to increase the supply of glucose to the muscles for greater endurance.

Ciao Riccò!

Italy’s high sporting court (TNA) issued Riccardo Riccò a 12-year ban for blood doping on Thursday.

The cyclist won stages in the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, but fell from grace after a positive test for EPO. Following a return, he nearly died last February from a botched transfusion. He admitted to a nurse that he had done it on his own with blood that been stored in his refrigerator for 25 days.

Riccardo Rico winning Stage 9 in the 2008 Tour de France.

Riccò changed his story and denied the transfusion and admission, but was unsuccessful in arguing his case. He had already served a 20-month ban for his EPO positive.

“Now I’ll start to talk about everyone and all I’ve seen in this two-faced cycling world,” he said this weekend via Twitter. “And I’ve seen a lot and I know a lot. Those who’ve made out to be angels are the worst, I can assure you that.”

Riccò continues to ride. He sat in on the Granfondo in San Marino on Sunday.