Orica-GreenEdge rider Simon Gerrans outsprinted Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and Michal Kwiatkowski of Omega Pharma-Quickstep to win the one hundredth edition of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège cycling race.
Valverde, who won here in 2006 and finished third in 2013, was looking to ride the momentum of his win in La Flèche Wallonne Wednesday, while Kwiatkowski, the Polish national champion, has been hot all year and finished third in Flèche Wallonne, but neither could catch Gerrans in the final hundred meter.
“Everybody was really tired coming into the finish, and fortunately I was well placed,” Gerrans told Velonews. “I was confident that I could beat these guys in a small sprint. But after 260k of racing, anything is possible, so I gave it my maximum.”
Defending champion Dan Martin of Garmin Sharp was looking set to repeat when he tried to carry a bit too much speed through the final corner and crashed 300 yards from the finish.
Classic Among Classics
Sometimes called “La Doyenne”, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the oldest of the Ardennes Classics, three tough races in a single week famous throughout the sport—the two Belgian Classics, the Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on successive Sundays with La Flèche Wallonne in the Netherlands stuck in the middle.
This year the trio of races started April 20 with the 250-km Amstel Gold and its 34 categorized climbs, continued Wednesday with another 200-km for the La Flèche Wallonne with three ascents up the Mur de Huy, a 15-percent climb with sections over 25 percent; and finished with the 263-km Liege-Bastogne-Liege, with only ten climbs, but generally longer and steeper than in the other two races. The three races demand a lot of riders—713 km (443 miles) of tough riding in seven days.
Often the weather is miserable—this part of Europe is usually cold and rainy in Spring—but this year Nature smiled; the entire week was warm and sunny. The skies were overcast for Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but the temperature was pleasant and the roads were dry.
BMC rider and former world champion Philippe Gilbert won his third Amstel Gold last Sunday. Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde won his second Flèche Wallonne Wednesday. Both were among the favorite here.
Carlos Betancur of Ag2R, who finished fourth last year, didn’t start because of illness; Sky’s Chris Froome, 2013 Tour de France winner, was also ill and didn’t start.
Trek rider Andy Schleck withdrew after 175 km because of knee pain from a crash at Amstel Gold last Sunday.
Katusha’s punchy climber Joaquim Rodriguez, who finished second in 2103, crashed in the Amstel Gold and hurt his ribs, then crashed twice more in Flèche Wallonne; he retired with 70 km left in this race.
World champion Rui Costa of Lampre-Merida crashed about 75 km from the finish and also retired.
A group of six riders got away early in the race, stretching their gap as far as 15:40 before the rest of the peloton decided to reel them in.
The race pace on the whole was slow, with most of the big teams preferring to save their ammo for the final several kilometers.
The race got interesting about 20 km from the finish when Trek’s Julian Arredondo attacked, followed by Ag2R’s Domenico Pozzovivo. This pair opened a small gap, but a group of race favorites led by Alejandro Valverde and Philippe Gilbert led a chase which split the peloton.
Arredondo and Pozzovivo lasted nine km out front before they were caught, with one classified climb and the final uphill drag left. The final 1.5 km of the course was not considered a climb, but it sloped upwards at an average grade of five percent.
A number of riders launched and abandoned short attacks, but the lead group stayed mostly together until 5.5 km from the finish when Katusha’s Giampaolo Caruso attacked seriously, followed by Domenico Pozzovivo. This pair got about 15 seconds, and looked for a few km like they might be able to steal the win.
It was not to be. The chase group turned up the pace and the lead started shrinking, down to eight seconds by the time the leaders hit the final uphill stretch.
The chasers were within a hundred meters at the one-kilometer arch, when Dan martin attacked, trying to recreate his amazing chase and win from last year when he caught Joachim Rodriguez near the line
Martin escaped the chasers and caught the two leaders rounding the final corner 300 meters from the line, but he pushed too hard, lost it low side, and skidded across the road while the rest of the chasers squeezed by against the left-hand barrier.
Alejandro Valverde set off after Martin before he crashed; he carried on to chase and catch Caruso but he used a lot of energy doing it. Simon Gerrans, led to the front by teammate Peter Weening, streaked past Valverde in the final two hundred meters. Valverde couldn’t catch him; neither could Kwiatkowski. Giampaolo Caruso held on for fourth and Pozzovivo took fifth.