The Spring Classics season is always
an exciting one in the professional bicycle racing calendar, with
April in particular often showcasing the "best of the best."
That's what we get in this double feature of Liege-Bastogne-Liege and
the Fleche Wallonne: two races and a lot of excitement.
The Belgian classics are often
dominated by the big Belgian teams, who are eager to win on home
turf. The Italians are also usually a force to be reckoned with, as
they've produced many talented single-day racers. Spain, on the other
hand, typically produces riders who excel in stage races, the
multi-day or multi-week races like the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia,
and Vuelta a España.
(Think Miguel Indurain and Pedro Delgado.) The Spanish teams tend to
keep their riders away from the Classics, making only a token effort
and reserving their real attention for the week-long races within
Spain. In the past few years, though, we've seen that pattern change,
with the World Championship and other key races opening up to Spanish
talent. Now, in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Fleche Wallonne, we see the
Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde burst into prominence like a
thunderbolt. Not that his success will be a surprise to those who've
been following the sport closely over the past few years. Valverde
has proved himself to be a top star on the cycling scene... but the
Belgian cobbles and nasty short climbs are a challenge all their own.
Though Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the
first race in the DVD package, it makes sense to watch the Fleche
Wallonne first, as it is chronologically earlier.
The 2006 Fleche Wallonne took place
on April 19, just a few days after the Amstel Gold race. That race
gave indications that Michael Boogerd might be a strong contender in
the Fleche Wallonne, but he had a lot of competition: apart from
Valverde, the Fleche Wallonne start list included Ivan Basso, Paulo
Bettini, Damiano Cunego, and Danilo Di Luca, among many other stellar
cyclists. The race itself turned out to be very exciting, with a lot
of aggressive action. It's always great to see a race like this,
featuring a lot of riders who all feel confident in their ability to
win. On any given day, like this one, there are in fact many riders
with a solid chance to see the victory: but in the end, it's the
challenge of the course itself, with brutal climbs like the decisive
Mur de Huy and the Cote de Ahin weeding out the strongest from the
Liege-Bastogne-Liege took place just
four days later, on April 23: barely enough time for the riders to
shake the cramp out of their legs. Alejandro Valverde was clearly the
main target for all the other teams, especially for Quick.Step's
Paulo Bettini, who wanted to take a third Liege-Bastogne-Liege title.
A major breakaway featuring most of the main teams shaped the race
fairly early on. It was perhaps not quite as much of an attacking
race as the Fleche Wallonne, but it was still very tense as riders
attempted to break off from the front of this group and make their
way clear; by the end, only the strongest were still hanging on. The
final turned out to be a very interesting, tactical finish, with
various riders trying to leap clear while others covered the breaks
and waited for their perfect moment. This is the kind of finish that
I think is the most exciting in cycle racing, more so than the
over-too-soon thrill of a bunch sprint.
The two-hour coverage of
Liege-Bastogne-Liege gets started in the race itself quite quickly,
with no introductions or interviews. Fleche Wallonne runs only about
an hour and 15 minutes, which is fine since the coverage picks up
when the race starts to get really serious.
This is a two-disc set; each race
has its own DVD, with the two packaged in a single-wide keepcase.
The image for Liege-Bastogne-Liege
is presented in 1.33:1 format, and looks quite disappointing compared
to other races this season. (Probably due to the quality of the
broadcast footage, not the DVD transfer). The image is grainy, with
colors looking harsh and usually too bright. The Fleche Wallonne,
which is also in 1.33:1 format, looks similar, with very bright
colors and some pixellation; it looks better in the grain department,
with a cleaner overall picture.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Fleche
Wallonne both offer a clean and clear soundtrack, with Phil Liggett
and Paul Sherwen's commentary sounding fine.
Start lists for the two races are
printed on the reverse side of the DVD cover insert. There are no
special features other than a promo for the DVDs of the other Spring
This pair of races offers a solid
package of entertainment for cycle racing fans, especially those who
have been following the careers of the up-and-coming riders like
Alejandro Valverde. I'll give this a strong "recommended"