Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) won the 99th Liège–Bastogne–Liège on Sunday in Ans, Belgium.
Martin attacked from a late escape and dropped Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 400 meters from the finish. Rodríguez was second.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) led a group of three chasers for third.
“I cannot believe it. I am really in shock,” said Martin. “The team rode like I’ve never seen them ride before. They protected me all day. We had Ryder and me, two guys in the last group. I am so happy. I just cannot believe it.”
Six riders attack to Bastogne
Six riders jumped into the day’s long breakaway in the first five kilometers of the race. Bart De Clercq (Lotto-Belisol), Vincent Jérôme (Europcar), Jonathan Fumeaux (IAM Cycling), Pirmin Lang (IAM Cycling), Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Sander Armee (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) pushed out to a maximum advantage of 13:35 49 kilometers into the race.
Movistar, BMC Racing, Lampre-Merida, and Astana took up the chase back in the peloton and began cutting time out of the escapees’ advantage. When they turned north in Bastogne and headed back toward the finish in Ans, and the day’s final 10 of 11 total climbs, the breakaway held just over 10 minutes on the bunch.
“This was a very hard race. But we all got along well in the break and everyone did his share of the work,” said Fumeaux, who made his WorldTour debut on Sunday. “And to be riding at the front of this race, cresting climbs like the Wanne, Stockeu, and La Haute Levée will be a memory that will long remain with me from my first WorldTour race. Now I have to concentrate on recovering since the Tour of Romandie is right around the corner.”
Saxo-Tinkoff led the chase as the race wound its way north from its southern-most post in Bastogne. Nicolas Roche and Nicki Sørensen pulled the bunch along and the pace cut sharply into the breakaway’s advantage. With 75km remaining, the gap was down to just 3:45.
The Danish squad led onto the 4.4km, 5.9-percent Col du Rosier, continuing to pull time out of the leaders, and after the sixth climb of the day, the job was on defending champion Maxim Iglinskiy’s Astana team to lead the bunch. RadioShack-Leopard and Sky massed behind a lone Astana man low down on the 2.5km, 5-percent Côte du Maquisard.
The pace was high early on in the run-in to the finale and the peloton shed riders as quickly as it shed time from the breakaway’s advantage. The bunch was about 60 riders as it topped the Maquisard.
The leaders dropped two riders; De Clercq suffered a mechanical with 59km to go and Armee fell off the pace. Armee quickly found himself back at the peloton. De Clercq lost nearly a minute on his wheel change and chased hard to try and make up the ground. He made contact again with the leaders, with the help of the Lotto mechanic, but had to take another wheel change. When that wheel gave him problems, De Clercq had to stop and take a bike change.
With 53km to go, the escapees were just four, with De Clercq pushing on inside the 2:25 gap.
There was no more waiting in the wings for Sky when the peloton rode onto the 2.7km, 5.9-percent Mont-Theux climb and the British squad took its place at the front of the chasing bunch with five riders. World champion Philippe Gilbert sat behind the black-and-blue squad, alongside two BMC Racing teammates.
Up ahead, De Clercq pushed his way back into the group and the leaders were five, with just 1:20, 45km from the finish.
Race to the Redoute
With 6km to go to the day’s first decisive climb, the race for the base of the 2km, 8.8-percent Côte de La Redoute was on. Lampre pushed hard up the right side of the Sky train, but the British squad maintained its position, leading into the winding approach to the Redoute through Remouchamps.
A crash at the back of the bunch drove a wedge in the back third of the peloton, with Andrey Amador (Movistar) among those going down.
Lang led the breakaway onto the climb with just 50 seconds’ advantage. Sky continued to press and the gap dropped quickly down to 30 seconds. As the peloton approached the escapees, David Lopez (Sky) countered and jumped away to a quick advantage, aided by teammates Richie Porte and Chris Froome, and Gilbert, blocking on the front of the peloton.
A handful of riders followed, with Rui Costa (Movistar) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) joining Lopez high up on the climb.
Four riders chased at eight seconds high up on the climb and soon made contact with the escape, putting seven into the head of the race: Lopez, Costa, Fuglsang, Alberto Losada (Katusha), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Mathias Frank (BMC Racing), and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida).
With a man each in the move, pre-race heavyweights Sky, Movistar, Astana, Katusha, and BMC Racing were able to put the chase on their rivals’ shoulders. Vacansoleil had missed the move and Thomas De Gendt was the first rider for the Dutch squad to jump, over the top of the climb.
Lopez rode away from his companions a few kilometers later, drawing out Bardet and Cunego. Behind them, Laurens Ten Dam (Blanco) bridged across to the four chasers. The trio wasn’t happy with its composition and sat up to wait for its five pursuers. With 30km to go, the eight attackers were together with Lopez at the back, appearing to suffer.
BMC Racing reset for Colonster
BMC Racing wasn’t happy with Frank in the breakaway and began pulling at the front of the peloton. With 28km to go, and six BMC riders at the head of the bunch, the gap was just 10 seconds. With 25km to go, the race was all together, BMC Racing, Ag2r La Mondiale, and Astana leading the race toward the 2.4km, six-percent Côte de Colonster.
Gilbert, who sat behind four Astana riders, had four teammates on the head of the peloton. Fuglsang was not among the Astana riders at the front, trailing off the back of the bunch.
Rui Costa (Movistar) surged at the bottom of the penultimate rated climb, stringing out the peloton. The move split the bunch, springing 10 riders, and signaled the opening of the race’s final salvo. Alberto Contador (Saxo) was among the leaders and attacked 1km from the top of the climb. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) was there as well and followed Contador to the front. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) pulled the leaders toward the summit.
Gilbert was forced to lead the chase, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) tucked into his wheel, and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) attacked, attempting to bridge. That attack pushed a chase group of seven off the front of the peloton, but they made no progress on the leaders and were soon back in the bunch.
Hesjedal attacked high up on the Colonster and rode free on the approach to the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. With 14.4km to go, Hesjedal held seven seconds over the chase group of Uran, Costa, Contador, Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha).
Astana led the chase behind the five-man group.
Hesjedal crouched onto his top tube, tucking low and pushing out his advantage to 17 seconds on the descent to the Saint-Nicolas.
Uran, Contador, and Antón led the chasers behind the Canadian, but the peloton drew the five-man group back. As the peloton rode under the 10km to go banner, BMC Racing and Katusha each had one rider in the chase, surrounded by four Astana men.
“Alberto tried his best at a good moment and even though he has been feeling tired, I think he looked good out there,” said Saxo director Philippe Mauduit.
Hesjedal, Martin one-two in the finale
Hesjedal took the corners onto the Saint-Nicolas with 20 seconds. The 2012 Giro d’Italia champion rocked his shoulders as he climbed in the saddle high up on the climb.
Fourteen seconds later, Nibali led the bunch up the climb. Just two days after winning the overall at the Giro del Trentino, the Sicilian didn’t have the surge he needed to contend and said he’d turned to work for the team.
“I missed explosion and without this quality, you can not win such a classic,” said Nibali. “As soon as I realized this, I started serving [Enrico] Gasparotto. The finish is fast and he could make a good place in the sprint.”
Flèche Wallonne winner Daniel Moreno (Katusha) suffered a mishap on the climb, dropping out of the back of the peloton after crashing and knocking his handlebars out of alignment.
“I’m sorry, I was really unlucky today,” he said. “I crashed before Saint-Nicolas and I couldn’t put the right way up my handlebar, so I lost a lot of time there.”
Hesjedal took an eight-second lead toward the top, his teammate Daniel Martin patrolling the front of the bunch. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) attacked in the final 300 meters of the climb, followed by Michele Scarponi (Lampre), Martin, and three others.
“When I saw that there were no attacks, I thought, ‘Go, I try my luck, I fight, and we’ll see,’” said Betancur. “It was difficult to attack and before we knew it was we had the final group.”
Valverde, Gilbert, and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) chased from behind and a roughly 20-rider chase group formed around them.
“I was blocked,” said Gilbert. “The team did a great job. We had six, seven men with me in the critical moments. I didn’t have the legs to go with the best; I was missing a few percentage in the end, and that was the big difference.”
The chasers made contact with Hesjedal over the top of the climb, making a six-man lead group: Hesjedal and Martin for Garmin, Betancur for Ag2r La Mondiale, Scarponi for Lampre, Rodríguez for Katusha, and Valverde for Movistar.
Hesjedal led the group into Ans with 2.4km to remaining, turning a long pull. Valverde sat second wheel and the work of the group rested on the Canadian’s shoulders.
Behind the leaders, Gilbert refused to pull. So, too, did Betancur’s teammate Rinaldo Nocentini.
Up front, Rodríguez attacked hard with 1km to go, on the final ramp to the finish straight. Scarponi tried to bridge, but could not.
“I was looking for answers for the Giro [d'Italia] and I found them,” said Scarponi. “In the end, it told me I lacked a little something to take Rodríguez’s wheel, but I am satisfied. I could not do more.”
Betancur gave up the ghost, looking over his shoulder, but Martin hunted “Purito” down.
“We had Ryder and me in the final, and no one seemed to watch us,” said Martin. “I hesitated a bit, but I saw they have nothing. A sprint after 250km is not like a normal one. I didn’t want to leave it to a group sprint.”
Valverde sat behind Scarponi, at five seconds.
Martin attacked Rodríguez into the final, left-hand corner and pressed onto the flat finishing straight. “Purito” had no answer for the surge and Martin rode clear over the line, becoming the first Irishman to win “La Doyenne” in 24 years.
“When I saw Rodríguez attack, I knew had to go,” said Martin. “I thought I left it a bit late, but I was able to catch him. I didn’t want to leave it as a sprint, so I was happy.”
Rodríguez said he knew the race was over when it was Martin who caught him on the final ramp in Ans.
“I started my rush in the best place, but Martin was able to catch me very quickly and pass me in the last hundred meters,” he said. “At first, I thought it was Scarponi, so I considered to have some chances at the final sprint, but when I realized it was Martin, and how easy he managed to catch me, I understood he would have defeated me.”
Valverde topped Betancur and Scarponi from the chase group for third.
“I’m satisfied with what I got. Two podiums in three classics are not at anyone’s reach. It’s obvious I was coming here for a victory, but all the big riders were here and aspire to the same thing,” said Valverde. “Martin and ‘Purito’ were stronger in the finale today and I’ve got to be satisfied with my third place.”
Katusha director Valerio Piva lamented losing Moreno to the mechanical on the Saint-Nicolas.
“Chapeau to Martin. He was strong and had the legs to counter ‘Purito,’” said Piva. “It was a tactical race. Garmin had two riders in the front; we only had Rodríguez. It’s too bad, but Garmin was very strong. Not a surprise. He won [Volta a] Catalunya and he’s a good rider.”