Cycling - Sean Kelly on Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Sean Kelly won Liege-Bastogne-Liege on two occasions so who better than the Eurosport commentator to preview Sunday’s Monument race.

Eurosport
Cycling - Sean Kelly on Liege-Bastogne-Liege
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Sean Kelly, Liege-Bastogne-Liege (Action Images)

You won the LBL in 84’ and 89’ where do these wins rate compared to your other career achievements, your seven consecutive wins in the Paris-Nice for example?

It’s one of the Monuments of the season, in prestige it’s up there with the Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders and Milan-San Remo. It’s definitely a fantastic race to win and to win it twice is very special to me.

It’s difficult to compare the two as they’re completely different. But if you can win the Paris-Nice you should be able to win LBL because there’s always days when there’s a lot of mountains and hills, so if you can get through that you should be able to get past LBL. Of course you have to be capable of doing 260km, with the Paris-Nice you maybe have 200-220km for a stage, but the one-day classics are all 260-270km if not longer, and that’s something some riders have difficulty adapting to.

What sort of attributes does a rider need to win a race like the LBL?

You have to be a very good climber, that is the most important thing. People say it’s flat in Belgium, but the LBL and the other Ardennes Classics are very hilly. There are some climbs there that can 4/5km long, and there’s other ones which are much shorter but very steep, which is why you never see the big sprinters winning the LBL because it’s just not possible.

It’s considered one of the toughest Classics, do you agree with that?

Yes because of the climbing and it is a very hilly race and the final part is very demanding. It is one of the toughest Classics without a doubt. But if you ask other riders which is the toughest, the guys who have won the Paris-Roubaix will say that’s the Monuments of the Monuments, but the riders who have won the Ardennes Classics or the Tour of Lombardy, they will say the LBL is the toughest because they haven’t won the Paris-Roubaix, so everyone will claim what they’re better at or have won to be the toughest.

On two occasions you won LBL, what specifically do you remember about those races?

My first win was a pretty hectic finish. I remember Stephen Roche had broken away with Moreno Argentin and a couple of others, and I was in a group behind with Laurent Fignon. It was a real exciting conclusion as we closed the front group, we only just pulled them back in the final kilometre.

The second time was also just as big, I was with the PDM-Concorde-Ultima team, with a really strong group of riders. I had my own tactics, I knew I had to attack quite a bit out and try and get into a breakaway and that’s what I managed to do with four riders including Pedro Delgado and Phil Anderson, we got away with about 35km to go until the finish. It was actually those guys who made the first attack and I decided to go with them as it would have been too much of a risk to wait, and my team may not have been able to help me catch the group. So it was a good decision in the end.

Are there parts of the course where the race can be won or lost?

The final stage of the route is always the most important part. It’s not like the Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders where you can have mechanical problems at a real bad moment which can cost you the race, because the roads are generally much better. So if you’re in good form and you’re a rider capable of winning the race and you find yourself in good position in the closing stages, then you will always have a good chance of winning.

Who do you consider as race favourites?

You have the likes of Nibali and also Joaquim Rodriguez, if he’s fit. But the Tour of the Basque Country race is a great indicator of who’s likely to perform well at the LBL. Many riders use this to prepare, so when you see the riders performing well there, usually this gives you a good idea of who the front runners will be at LBL. Andy Schleck potentially if he gets some form, Philippe Gilbert will always be there as it’s a home race for him so no doubt will be up for that one, he also looks like he’s got some form going into it.

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