LIEGE, Belgium (VN) — Despite their hardest efforts and perfect tactics, the Schleck brothers said Sunday that it was impossible to beat Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
After being greeted by hundreds of fans pressing in around the Leopard-Trek bus, Andy and Fränk Schleck said that they had ridden the perfect race. The only problem was that in the end, Gilbert was simply too strong to be beaten.
“He was unbeatable,” said Fränk Schleck, who finished second when Gilbert kicked hard out of the final corner in Ans. “He was the only one who could follow us. There was nothing else to do today. We have no regrets and that is most important.”
Jens Voigt was waiting for the brothers when they arrived to the bus. The German worked hard midway through the race when Leopard took control of the fading peloton at the Côte du Rosier. On the approach to the Col du Maquisard 65km from the finish, Voigt planted on the point of the bunch and pulled hard, his body and bike swaying under the effort.
“We tried to make it hard. I think we succeeded,” Voigt told VeloNews. “What can you do? Philippe Gilbert is just too strong.”
According to Voigt, the team executed the plan laid out by director Kim Anderson in their team meeting Saturday. They forced Gilbert’s Omega Pharma teammates to work early in the race and when they arrived to the Roche au Faucons, Jelle Vanendert was the only man left.
“We are trying, suffering, sacrificing and our plan almost worked perfectly,” said Voigt. “We thought that isolating Gilbert would be our key to beat him, but he just doesn’t need anybody. He just goes faster when he needs to.”
Leopard has seen bad luck in the earlier Ardennes classics. Fränk and Fabian Cancellara crashed in the crucial moment at the Amstel Gold Race last Sunday. On Wednesday, Andy suffered from a rare allergy attack that affected his vision. Despite Jacob Fuglsang’s fourth at Amstel, they had yet to find the podium before Liège.
All of the pieces came together Sunday, but that little something they needed —Voigt called it a miracle — didn’t happen. With Gilbert isolated on the final two climbs, the Schlecks tried three times to dislodge him, but could not.
“We attacked him in Roche au Faucons twice,” said Fränk Schleck. “We attacked him in Saint-Nicolas. He was unbeatable.”
Despite their inability to stop Gilbert’s sweep of the Ardennes classics, after a moment of thought Voigt said he was satisfied.
“We agreed that the last thing we would need today was to sit in the bus after the race and say we waited too long, we saved too much, we hesitated. That’s the worst. If you sit in the bus completely dead, giving everything we had, then we did our job,” said Voigt.
“Of course we would have hoped to have one more step on the podium, it would have looked perfect with one of the Schlecks on top and then Philippe.”