ANS, Belgium (AFP) – Simon Gerrans spoke of his delight after not only becoming the first Australian to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but doing so in the race’s 100th edition.
Such was the importance of the occasion that King Philippe of Belgium was present to mark the race’s start on Sunday.
And while home favorite, Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) could only manage eighth in the race run around his home region, Gerrans powered home on the tough uphill finish at Ans to claim victory at “La Doyenne,” the oldest of the classics.
“To win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège is really special, but the fact that it’s the 100th edition probably puts my name in the history of the race and that’s a really special feeling and real honour to do that,” said the 33-year-old Australian. “We had some fantastic results at the 100th Tour de France last year and now the 100th Liège, maybe that’s a little omen for Orica-GreenEdge.”
Orica-GreenEdge enjoyed a successful Tour in 2013, winning the fourth stage team time-trial around Nice, a day after Gerrans had sprinted to victory in the third stage from Ajaccio to Calvi in Corsica. That was Gerrans’ second individual Tour stage victory having also crossed the line first on stage 15 in 2008. He is no stranger to major race wins having tasted success at both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana in 2009. He is the record three-time winner of the Tour Down Under while he took victory at the 2012 Milan-San Remo, which like Liège is one of the five monuments of cycling.
But Gerrans said this win in the Ardennes topped the lot.
“I’ve had some very beautiful victories over the past couple of years but I think Liège-Bastogne-Liège is really special to me because ever since I turned professional I’ve competed at Liège nearly every year,” he said. “It’s a race I’ve always dreamt of wining, so because it’s something I’ve been working towards for so long, it’s such a fantastic feeling to win. It’s probably my most beautiful victory of my career.”
Gerrans had said before the race that he thought he had less chances of winning than he did at the Amstel Gold Race the week before. He had finished third three times at Amstel, including this year, whereas his best result in Liège had been a sixth place in 2009.
And he even admitted that there was a point during the race where he didn’t think he would be able to keep up with the frenetic pace.
“Just after the Forges climb (about 35km from the end) that was a really difficult section of the race,” he said. “With the Redoute, Sprimonte and Forges (climbs) quite close together, I was really feeling the effects of that hard section of the race. I actually said to my teammates, ‘I’m not feeling too good at the moment,’ but they stuck by me and supported me, and that really gave me the confidence to give it everything coming into the final. They placed me perfectly for the Roche-aux-Faucons (the penultimate climb) and again at Saint-Nicolas to give me every opportunity.”
And now that he had surpassed his best result at Amstel, Gerrans admitted he might have to rethink his assessment of which race best suits him.
“I’ve always said that Amstel probably suits me a little bit better than Liège and my results have shown that: I’ve been on the podium now three times at Amstel Gold. I have had a couple of top 10 finishes at Liège but I’ve never arrived sprinting for the win. I think it was a matter of everything unfolding perfectly for me, that I did come in with the first guys and had enough of a sprint to finish it off. It’s hard to say now which race has suited me more but I’ve always said I’d need a perfect day to win Liège, and I think that’s what happened.”