This story originally appeared on Cyclingnews.com
Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) won a thrilling Liège-Bastogne-Liège, powering clear of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) in the final few hundred meters to seal his first Classics victory. The Irishman was set up for the win by teammate Ryder Hesjedal who attacked on the penultimate climb of the race and then held a crucial chase group together before the final drag to the finish in Ans.
The 26-year-old, who came into the race as one of the favourites following his fourth place in La Fleche Wallonne, jumped onto Rodriguez’s wheel when the Spaniard attacked with one kilometre to go and then distanced the Spaniard with the line in sight.
“I can’t believe it, I’m really in shock,” said Martin. “I’ve never seen the team ride so strong – they kept me protected all day. It felt like one of the easiest races I’ve ever did. It really is incredible, I’m so happy.”
The early stages
It took a number of attacks to get there, but after 10km of racing the day’s break established itself under overcast skies in the way out of Liège.
Sander Armee (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Bart De Clercq (Lotto Belisol), Vincent Jérôme (Europcar), Pirmin Lang and Jonathan Fumeaux (IAM Cycling) plus Frederik Veucheulen (Vacansoleil-DCM) were the chosen six, the peloton content to let them move ahead of the race rather quickly. With 44km of racing done, and with the breakaway having gained 14 minutes over the bunch, Katusha moved to the front of the chase, pegging the six back to around 12 minutes. And only with around 100km of racing complete, did the gap finally dip below 10 minutes.
The Côte de Wanne saw BMC and Movistar with a concerted effort at the front of the peloton with the breakaway’s advantage hovering around six minutes, but the bunch was stretched in the process. Next up, the Côte de Stockeu forced the breakaway to split under pressure, with Lang dropping behind but eventually making contact again with 90km to go and the gap at 5:29.
The Col du Rosier, the highest point in the race at 565 metres marked the spot for Team Saxo-Tinkoff, as they accelerated off the front of the bunch via Mads Christensen and Chris Anker Sørensen. The move took another 15 seconds off the six leaders’ advantage and with 70km to go the breakaway had just 2:56 over the peloton.
Through Spa and the Côte du Maquisard was next, this time Astana leading the charge up the climb, with RadioShack and Sky in the wheels behind.
Armee was dropped from the front group on the Maquisard and seemed content to let his companions drive on ahead, the peloton continuing to close in with four climbs left in the race. De Clercq was next to drop out of the breakaway, suffering mechanical issues and receiving assistance from neutral service and eventually the team car with a spare bike. At least 30 seconds back, the Belgian’s day looked to be over with 57km to go. De Clercq made it back to the lead group seven kilometres later, but the quintet’s lead had been cut considerably, now down to 1:28 following the Mont-Theux.
Sky firmly had charge of the pace-setting for the peloton, with Froome and Porte the last of their intact squad at the front of the bunch. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was hovering nearby, as was Philippe Gilbert (BMC) with his home town just ahead with thousands of fans awaiting his arrival, while Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) was one of the last men in the bunch.
The Côte de la Redoute ahead, the jostling for position at the front of the bunch began in earnest, with Sky gaining company from Lampre-Merida, AG2R La Mondiale, Omega Pharma-QuickStep and BMC. The gap continued to drop under these conditions and with 41km to go it was down to a minute.
Andrei Amador (Movistar) crashed on a left-hand bend with 40km to go, taking several Cofidis riders with them, no doubt causing concern for Alejandro Valverde’s chances.
The ascent of the Redoute brought multiple attacks, first from Vincent Jerome (Europcar) with David Lopez (Sky), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) joining him in the charge.