La Doyenne wasn't an edge of your seat type of race, but the fallout afterwards made up for it.
Watching a classic on the weekend is the cherry on top of a long week - it's my reward. I sit back, fire up the bootleg video stream of bike racing on Eurosport and enjoy my coffee. Sometimes I'll have waffles.
But lately the classics have been, how do I say this delicately, boring. Now before I insult any of the participants of the classics, I want to say I admire your ability to race on cobbles, through the rain and hail to conquer steep inclines. Very impressive stuff. But at times very boring to watch.
Eurosport had over two hours of live coverage of Liege-Bastogne-Liege and I sat there glued to the monitor, hanging onto every word that co-commentator Sean Kelly said like it was straight from heaven. Let's face it, Kelly was the one-day racer of his generation - what he says is gospel.
As expected an early breakaway formed and this is what we watched - six guys exchanging pulls in a double paceline. Everyone knew they were going to get caught, but that move is usually one of two things: great television exposure for the teams in the break (over an hour watching these guys roll along the Belgium countryside) or the classic strategy of taking the pressure off of a team who has a rider up the road.
As predicted the six were caught and tradition states that the climb of La Redoute is where the racing gets real. And sure, this climb separated those who were here to race from those were fetching bottles and rain jackets - but the decisive move of the race didn't occur. It just eliminated riders. Ok, I can have a bit of patience, but I'll be honest, I don't have a lot of it.
As the Liege-Bastogne-Liege race started to broadcast during the 08:00 hour east coast time (which for me is early) to stay awake I was intermittently drinking coffee and plucking my arm hair. Other times my mind started to wander contemplating what the squirrels might be up to in my backyard.
But now I was hoping for some activity and to my surprise Team BMC Racing's Philippe Gilbert was no longer a contender! What?? I had picked that guy to be at least on the podium for crying out loud! He was sixth at Amstel Gold, then third in Fleche Wallonne - I saw those as signs that there could possibly be a post-race celebration coming from the BMC bus. But lo...it was not to be as he could no longer hold the pace.
Phil was not alone. Frank Schleck, who finished 2nd last year, got dropped. Honestly, I wasn't (and neither should you have been) surprised by this. The Schlecks have continued to get beat on this season and they couldn't get a break. Also it doesn't help when internal team decisions are aired in the media. We'll get to that in a moment.
Regardless, the action finally started to heat up in the last 12 kilometers. Vincenzo Nibali broke away and looked to have the win sown up. But was that a baby blue kit on the horizon getting closer? It was Maxim Iglinsky of Astana! Whaaat?
As we all saw, Iglinsky passed a suffering Nibali and that was that. But then in the sprint for third his teammate Enrico Gasparotto beats a group of 11 for the final podium spot! My buddy and columnist at Velo Magazine, Dan Wuori, asked me rhetorically if I ever thought Astana would have earned more UCI points than BMC, RadioShack and Sky by this time in the season. Honestly, no I would never have picked this Russian break away republic sponsored squad to have any more UCI points than the club I race for. But there you go - Astana no longer needs to worry about being booted out of the WorldTour like a wedding crasher. The boys in baby blue raced smart allowing others to do the work (cough, cough...BMC) and counter attacked when it mattered.
As expected the post-race analysis was all over the place with the Astana sandwich on the podium with Nibali as the meat. There was some innuendo that the win from a team that has had some scandals in the past, might be a bit suspicious.
Sure he wasn't anyone's pick for the win, but Iglinsky was second at the Strade Bianche in the beginning of the year followed by solid performances in Amstel Gold (11th) and Fleche Wallonne (13th). Nothing that lights the world on fire, but it shows he's a rider who could, on a good day, get it done. And let's not forget, Gasparotto won Amstel Gold the other week. I'm not willing to hastily cast the net of suspicion on them just because they had a great day. Isn't that why we tune in to watch sports? It's not always the favorites that win. There are so many variables that can determine an outcome: health, a crash, smart tactics, weather conditions ... So let's put down the torches and simmer down a bit before we start roasting people at the stake.
The other fallout from La Doyenne was the rift growing between the management of RadioShack-Nissan and their general classification hope Andy Schleck. According to the team, director Kim Andersen wasn't going to attend the Tour de France and instead Johan Bruyneel would be behind the wheel. This did not make the Schlecks happy as Andersen has been their wingman since the beginning. Bruyneel put on his boss man pants and replied in the media that Andersen is out and he's in because he's the boss.
I have to hand it to Bruyneel - that's a gutsy move. Not stepping up to be the boss he's supposed to be, that's actually what he's paid to do, but for consciously deciding that he's going to be the captain at the wheel when the USS RadioShack-Nissan runs aground.
Let's all take a hard look at the season so far: the Schlecks aren't going to win this year. Hell, maybe never! Everything is conspiring against the Luxembourg brothers. Not only did the A.S.O. add kilometers to the total amount of distance covered in the time trial in this year's Tour, but they just added an additional 300 meters to the opening prologue. That translates to Andy losing an additional 20 seconds just there!
I've said it before, but Cadel Evans is my strong favorite to repeat and Levi Leipheimer or Bradley Wiggins are also strong choices. Call me crazy, but that's what my Magic 8-Ball has been telling me these past couple of months.
Just as I was wrapping up my column it looks like a ghost from Alberto Contador's past has come back to haunt him. A former masseur has testified that Contador was injected with insulin during the 2005 Tour de France. That is a big no-no. Of course Contador's lawyers have denied these accusations.
At this point we don't know if this will affect Contador's current ban or what, but it looks like the Spanish doping saga has resurrected like a zombie. When are we finally going to cut the head off of this thing and bury it?