The final Ardennes classic took place today, and the spring season bowed out with a bang at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Birmingham-born Irishman Dan Martin repeated the feat of his compatriot Sean Kelly in the 1980s, as he made a successful late attack to snatch victory in the most prestigious of the three Ardennes races.
Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil-DCM), Bart De Clercq (Lotto-Belisol), Vincent Jerome (Europcar), Jonathan Fumeaux and Pirmin Lang (IAM Cycling) and Sander Armee (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) made up the day’s major breakaway, which achieved a lead of around a quarter of an hour before they started to be brought back.
The break started to disintegrate, and they were eventually caught inside the final 40km on the Côte de la Redoute. On that same climb another group of riders tried to escape, with the most notable being Rui Costa, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida), though BMC controlled affairs in a Team Sky-esque fashion on the front, suffocating any breakaways.
However, they found it harder to control once the riders hit the Côte de Colonster with 17km to go. Alberto Contador (Saxo Tinkoff) instigated an attack, followed by several others. Only one man was able to open up a meaningful advantage – Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp). When he arrived at the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, he was joined by Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale), Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp).
With his teammate now in tow, Hesjedal buried himself in a bid to deliver Martin to the line. Astana led the chase behind with Vincenzo Nibali missing the move, though they couldn’t close the gap. Rodriguez made the first move, with his teammate Dani Moreno out of contention having crashed with around 6km to go. However, Rodriguez’s usual incredible acceleration wasn’t in evidence, and Dan Martin managed to bridge the gap and pass the Spaniard, taking his second win of the season.
Analysis & opinion
With none of the major favourites looking in peak form, it was another race which anyone could’ve won. Having looked in excellent form throughout the spring, it’s a deserved victory for Dan Martin, though he certainly has a lot to thank his teammate Ryder Hesjedal for.
As it turned out, Garmin’s strategy of sending Hesjedal up the road to use as a springboard for Martin was perfect. It left the likes of Vincenzo Nibali and Philippe Gilbert in two minds as to whether to stay or go, having the handy effect of shaking off a couple of dangerous names. Hesjedal was clearly also in great form, as his mammoth effort was enough to deliver Martin to the finish before the break were caught by the peloton.
Elsewhere, Carlos Betancur finished fourth after picking up a podium at La Flèche Wallonne, and will have raised more than a few eyebrows with his classics campaign. Philippe Gilbert came across the line down in seventh in the end, meaning that he hasn’t been on the podium at any of the three Ardennes classics – an even worse haul than last year, which was considered his annus horribilis. He’ll be incredibly frustrated, but for the second year in a row he just hasn’t had the legs to be competitive enough.
Finally, a word for Alberto Contador. Like him or not, he always tries to animate a race, and always rides aggressively. He was never going to have the legs to pick up a victory here, but that didn’t stop him trying an audacious move on the Côte de Colonster. There’s very rarely a boring moment when El Pistolero is around.
1. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) 6:38:07
2. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha Team) +0:03
3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) +0:09
4. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) same time
5. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) s/t
6. Enrico Gasparotto (Team Astana) +0:18
7. Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) s/t
8. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) s/t
9. Rui Costa (Movistar Team) s/t
10. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) s/t