On the eve of the last Spring Classic, we asked Mattias Skjelmose and Giulio Ciccone their thoughts for Sunday's race. Here's what they said about their ambitions, feelings, potential scenarios and competitors ahead of 'La Doyenne'...
After the recon I did this morning, I’m more and more convinced that we’ll have a very hard race on Sunday. There’s also a change to the route, compared to the past editions, that really leans in the direction of having that kind of race. The presence of Pogacar also imposes the need for a different approach to the race if you want to put in him trouble, like being in the front early and acting in advance. I expect lots of riders try to go early.
I feel that my legs are there. In Amstel Gold Race my performance was not bad, yesterday at Flèche was good and I hope on Sunday that I can be even better. Liège will be the last race of my Spring and of the first block of the season. I’m really motivated to get the best out of my good condition.
It would be nice to get another bold result. Another top ten would be nice but why not dream for the biggest result and aim for a podium finish. That’s not a lack of ambition, of course. As I have said before we always race to win, but we have to be realistic. With Pogacar, but also Evenepoel on the start line, a podium result means a lot.
I think our recent performances as a team speak for themsevles. We have done well in these Classics, but also in previous races. We know how to race as a team and Sunday’s race, on paper, could fit our characteristics even better. Cicco and I have a leading role, we are both doing well and we have proven to be competitive in the finale but, we also have other strong riders, like Bauke and Juanpe, who can offer different opportunities and scenarios. With the utmost respect, I don’t see other teams capable of expressing collective strength like ours.
From what we have seen, the only weak point of Pogacar is when he gets too excited and forgets to eat [laughing]. Jumbo-Visma was able to exploit this weakness last year, but I don’t think he will make the same mistake again. So unfortunately, for now, I don’t see any weak points. He is a one in a century kind of rider, I respect him a lot. He has showed, not only at the Classics, that he’s the big favorite. Evenepoel hasn’t raced for some time and he’s coming straight from an altitude camp. He’ll be strong, no doubts, but we still don’t know how strong.
Evenepoel’s presence offers a new dynamic compared to Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne and the hope, in order to have a totally open race, is that they will try to neutralize each other. This may offer a chance to the outsiders, especially those who are in front at the right time. We know this, but so do Tadej and Remco.
I think Liège-Bastone-Liège is a race that is suited to my characteristics, especially the type of climbs in the race. I came to the Ardennes Classics in good condition and the first round at Flèche Wallonne went pretty well. It marked my return to racing after a month which focused first on recovery followed by a block of intense training in view of the Giro. It was a brutal but useful effort, a good opener and I’m confident that after my encouraging fifth place result that I can do well on Sunday.
My only memory of Liège is from 2019, I haven’t raced it since. It was an epic edition though, I remember it was really cold and there was so much rain. It has always been a race that I have enjoyed following on TV, Classics and one-day races, in general, are the type of races I like. They are nervous, tense, explosive, all-in races. You need to be ready to give 100 percent at that moment, both physically and mentally. It's an exciting one-on-one confrontation and with the good feelings I have, I'm motivated to bring out my best.
The way the Classics have gone so far, every race prediction could be overturned. At Amstel Gold Race, we saw an attack from far out then yesterday, at Flèche, it all came down to the last climb. I think there is room on Sunday to try to make a difference early. It is worth noting that Liège has peculiarities all its own. Amstel is a continuous up and down on narrow roads, Flèche has the Mur de Huy that makes the selection whereas ‘La Doyenne’ has long climbs and a very hard finish. On paper, there is more room to invent something, to try to put the number one favorite, Pogacar, in trouble. A lot will depend on the approach he and his team take but when thinking ahead another rider deserves a mention: the defending champion Evenepoel. Tadej and Remco come to the race after different paths, the Belgian’s being more like mine while, Pogacar has the advantage of having already proven he is at the top.
We have proven in these Classics that we have a strong and competitive team. If the race explodes early, it would be interesting for us and would also allow us to take advantage of our teamwork. Obviously, though, we will be ready for any scenario. I hope for a tough race, one that is more based on endurance skills.