Valverde Wins Third Liege-Bastogne-Liege
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has won Liege-Bastogne-Liege for the third time. The Movistar man overhauled Daniel Moreno (Katusha) in the final km of La Doyenne and then blasted away from eight companions in a sprint to take the rugged, 253-km classic in 6:14:20. Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick Step) finished second, and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) took third.
Overcast skies greeted the field, and the finish would occur in the rain. At 31 km, Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Otto Vergaerde (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Clement Chevrier (IAM Cycling), Marco Minaard (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Anthony Turgis (Cofidis), Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18), and Rasmus Quaade (Cult) jumped clear. The peloton did not chase immediately, and the break led the bunch by 7:45 at 48 km. Europcar began to chase, and the escapees’ lead had dropped to 5:15 at the summit of the day’s first climb, the Cote de La Roche-en-Ardenne .
Attrition took its toll, and the break consisted of five riders on the Cote de Wanne. Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) caught and dropped the quintet on the Cote de Stockeu, but the peloton reeled them in on the descent.
Tanel Kangert (Astana) attacked on the Cote de la Haute-Levee and teammate Michele Scarponi, Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank), Julian Arredondo (Trek), and Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) joined him. The five riders led the field by 0:25 at the summit. On the next ascent, the Col des Rosiers, Arredondo and Boaro were dropped. At the top of the climb, the three remaining leaders led the 40-man, Movistar-led peloton by 0:55.
Crashes put paid to some riders’ hopes. Defending champion Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) crashed twice within a few km and abandoned. Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin protected by POC), the 2013 champion who was nursing a neck injury suffered in La Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday, hit the deck and called it a day as well. Nicolas Roche (Sky Pro Cycling) and Frank Schleck (Trek) wound up on the ground as well.
On the Cote de La Redoute, Scarponi and Chaves dropped Tangert and led the peloton by 0:35. The bunch reeled in the fugitives with 24 km left.
On the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons, Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) and Gianpaolo Caruso (Katusha) attacked. The pair had forged an 18-second lead at the summit, and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) joined them. With 10 km to go, the trio led the bunch by 0:15.
The peloton chased furiously, shelling riders as it did so. Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step), and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) were dropped on the Cote de Saint-Nicolas. The peloton, which was down to 25 riders, caught the break on the climb.
Fifteen riders led the run home. With about a km remaining, Moreno attacked. Momentary indecision among his erstwhile companions about who would chase allowed the Katusha man to open a gap and look like a winner. Valverde then set out after Moreno, and eight other riders followed him. The Movistar man kept the tempo high, so that his companions could not come around him. A further acceleration put more than a bike length between him and the pursuit.
Valverde had to deal with the pressure of being the favorite, but he did so with the assistance of his team. "It's just unreal,” the Spaniard said. “I'm still not able to realize what I have achieved, and I couldn't believe myself when I crossed the line. I knew I was the biggest favourite and everyone was keeping an eye on me at all times, but the team was superb again today.They reacted perfectly in all crucial moments and we were able to win after such a demanding day, so difficult to manage. I was really paying attention to all moves at the front in the finale; I knew Alaphilippe was still there but I wasn't looking only at him, because the group was numerous and any attack could be decisive. Still, huge thumbs up to him. He's done really great and aged only 22, he's performing very high.
"At the slope of Ans, I was seeing Dani Moreno going away. After such a fast, hard race, with all the wear and tear, I knew everyone was going to be tired and also that I was going to struggle to get him back, but I stayed confident he would suffer at the end. I realized he was really going away, wanted to save some energy for the sprint but also knew I had to go after him, so I decided to attack with 600 meters to go to reach him, but always saving a 'bullet' to sprint at the end, as I did.”
Thus the spring classics season ends. Many of the riders in today’s race will appear in the Grand Tours of the spring and summer. How will they fare in Giro d'Italia and Tour de France 2015? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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