Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) had time to savour his coronation as king of the Classics when he easily out-sprinted Fränk and Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) to take victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The win saw Gilbert complete a hat-trick of wins in the Ardennes, after triumphing at Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallone in the past week. Born near the course at Verviers, it was an emotional victory for Gilbert, who took his eighth Classic victory, and his first at La Doyenne.
The leading trio escaped on the Côte de Roche aux Faucons with 20km, when the Schleck brothers made their much-anticipated two-pronged attack. Fränk was the first to go, but when Andy joined him with Gilbert sat comfortably on his wheel, there was already an air of inevitability about the result.
The Schleck-Gilbert express caught and passed the remnants of an earlier breakaway over the top of the climb, although the plucky Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) managed to hitch a ride as far as the Côte de Saint-Nicholas, with 5km to go.
On the Saint-Nicholas itself, Gilbert was well able to resist Andy Schleck’s speculative pressing, and even went to the front himself. As the road steepened, he launched a ferocious acceleration of his own from the front, to which only Fränk had an answer, although Andy managed to get back on after scrambling down the descent.
Although outnumbered two to one in the final kilometres, Gilbert had a comfortable time of it on the approach to the final kick up the Côte de Ans. Rather than attack Gilbert in turn, as might have been expected, the Schlecks appeared resigned to the fact that the Belgian was simply the strongest man in the race, and ultimately they all but carried him to the finish.
For his part, as was the case from the Roche aux Faucons, Gilbert contributed his share of the pace-setting, but was always careful in his positioning as he looked to avoid an ambush.
Even under the red kite, however, neither Schleck was able to summon up an attack to cast at least some doubt on the outcome. Instead, Andy Schleck led out a straightforward sprint, and Gilbert duly ripped past him 200 metres from the line to score an emphatic victory.
Fränk Schleck crossed the line in second ahead of Andy, while Roman Kreuziger (Astana) led home a select chasing group 24 seconds back to take fourth in front of Rigoberto Uran (Sky), Chris Anker Sørensen (Saxo Bank-SunGard), Van Avermaet and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale).
Kreuziger’s team leader Alexandre Vinokourov had punctured on the Roche aux Faucons shortly after Gilbert and the Schlecks’ decisive move, but while the confusion that caused may have hindered the initial pursuit, there was no doubting that Gilbert was far and away the strongest man, as has been the case all week.
Early breakaway with strong De Gendt
Soon after the start in sunny Liège Sébastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet) and Jesus Herrada Lopez (Movistar) sparked the early breakaway, and in several steps eight more riders joined them: David Le Lay (AG2R), Frederik Kessiakoff (Astana), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), Tony Gallopin (Cofidis), Mickel Delage (FDJ),Yannick Talabardon and finally Mathias Frank (BMC).
The ten leaders never received more than four minutes from the peloton where the Omega Pharma-Lotto team took the main responsibility for keeping the gap in check.
The lead was down to less than three minutes when reaching the trio of climbs of the Côte de Wanne, Côte de Stockeu and Côte de la Haute-Levée. Thomas De Gendt crossed the top of each climb in front, clearly with a repeat win in the mountains prize in mind. On the last climb the lead group split apart while a large chase group was formed.
Once again Omega Pharma-Lotto missed the move and was forced to do the chasing, but this time Leopard-Trek joined them on the front of the peloton. The situation changed often in the following 25km with even outsider Danilo Di Luca (Katusha) attacking from the peloton.
Thirteen leaders cause problems for the peloton
After the Col du Maquisard, there were 13 riders in the lead group: previous leaders Vorganov, De Gendt, Gallopin and Frank were joined by Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Highroad), Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), Juan Manuel Garate and Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Dario Cataldo and Jérôme Pineau (Quick-Step), Blel Kadri (AG2R) and Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale).
In the peloton the Omega Pharma-Lotto team was burning an important match as Jurgen Van Den Broeck pulled for a long time on his own, and then 45km from the finish a poker game of sorts developed. When Omega Pharma-Lotto sat up, nobody else was working and the gap quickly grew up to 1:30. Eventually, Leopard Trek took over the job from Van Den Broeck, but the gap kept growing until suddenly FDJ lent their former teammate Gilbert a hand.
No explosion on the Côte de la Redoute
Thanks to the efforts of Leopard Trek, the gap to the leaders was down to one minute at the foot of La Redoute, 35km from the line. Cataldo and De Gendt quickly got dropped, while Enrico Gasparotto, Greg Van Avermaet and Jerome Pineau would go on prove themselves to be the best of the break by forging clear on the next climb
Meanwhile, Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) led the peloton over La Redoute at 35km from the finish line and the chase continued to the base of the Roche aux Faucons, where the favourites finally sparked into action, as the Schlecks and Gilbert danced clear and bridged up to Gasparotto, Van Avermaet and Pineau,
Shortly afterwards, Gasparotto and Pineau bade farewell to the front of the race, as the scene was set for a battle of strength and guile between the Schleck brothers and Philippe Gilbert. And on each count, Gilbert proved himself to be superior.
|1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||6:13:18|
|2 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek|
|3 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek|
|4 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Pro Team Astana||0:00:24|
|5 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling|
|6 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard|
|7 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team||0:00:27|
|8 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale||0:00:29|
|9 Björn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team||0:00:39|
|10 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi|
|11 Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Katusha Team||0:00:43|
|12 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Sky Procycling|
|13 Paul Martens (Ger) Rabobank Cycling Team|
|14 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi|
|15 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team|
|16 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre – ISD|
|17 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:00:47|
|18 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) HTC-Highroad||0:00:53|
|19 Kristof Vandewalle (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team||0:00:57|
|20 Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team||0:00:58|
|21 Nicki Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard|
|22 Ben Hermans (Bel) Team RadioShack|
|23 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack||0:01:01|
|24 Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team|
|25 Thomas Löfkvist (Swe) Sky Procycling|
|26 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team||0:01:14|
|27 David Lopez Garcia (Spa) Movistar Team||0:01:16|
|28 Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Movistar Team||0:01:26|
|29 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Team Garmin-Cervelo||0:01:40|
|30 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team|
|31 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek|
|32 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Pro Team Astana||0:01:43|
|33 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team|
|34 Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Saur – Sojasun||0:02:10|
|35 Jérôme Baugnies (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen – Mercator||0:02:13|
|36 Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ||0:02:29|
|37 Stephen Cummings (GBr) Sky Procycling||0:02:31|
|38 Ludovic Turpin (Fra) Saur – Sojasun||0:02:34|
|39 Blel Kadri (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:02:36|
|40 Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Team Garmin-Cervelo|
|41 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Katusha Team||0:02:38|
|42 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack|
|43 Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Katusha Team|
|44 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Pro Team Astana|
|45 Addy Engels (Ned) Quickstep Cycling Team||0:03:00|
|46 Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team|
|47 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team|
|48 Rémy Di Gregorio (Fra) Pro Team Astana||0:04:03|
|49 Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team||0:05:18|
|50 Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Blr) HTC-Highroad|
|51 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale||0:06:42|
|52 Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad||0:07:16|
|53 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team||0:07:18|
|54 Alexandre Geniez (Fra) Skil – Shimano||0:07:35|
|55 Dirk Bellemakers (Ned) Landbouwkrediet|
|56 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team|
|57 Mickaël Buffaz (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne|
|58 Craig Lewis (USA) HTC-Highroad|
|59 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek|
|60 Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi|
|61 Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team|
|62 Davy Commeyne (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|63 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne|
|64 Bram Tankink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team|
|65 Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Katusha Team|
|66 Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team|
|67 Daniele Pietropolli (Ita) Lampre – ISD|
|68 Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre – ISD|
|69 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team|
|70 Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Pro Team Astana|
|71 Bert Scheirlinckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|72 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale|
|73 Beñat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team|
|74 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo|
|75 Peter Stetina (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo|
|76 Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre – ISD|
|77 Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne|
|78 Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) FDJ|
|79 Maciej Paterski (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale|
|80 Jerome Coppel (Fra) Saur – Sojasun|
|81 Amaël Moinard (Fra) BMC Racing Team|
|82 John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|83 Francesco Reda (Ita) Quickstep Cycling Team|
|84 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne|
|85 Fabrice Jeandesboz (Fra) Saur – Sojasun|
|86 Matthew Busche (USA) Team RadioShack|
|87 Michael Albasini (Swi) HTC-Highroad|
|88 Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing Team|
|89 Philip Deignan (Irl) Team RadioShack|
|90 Iván Velasco Murillo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi||0:08:01|
|91 Simone Ponzi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale||0:08:55|
|92 Pieter Jacobs (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen – Mercator|
|93 Alessandro Spezialetti (Ita) Lampre – ISD||0:08:56|
|94 Thomas Degand (Bel) Veranda’s Willems – Accent||0:09:22|
|95 Kevin Van Melsen (Bel) Veranda’s Willems – Accent|
|96 Rafal Majka (Pol) Saxo Bank Sungard|
|97 Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale|
|98 Sven Van Den Houte (Bel) Veranda’s Willems – Accent|
|99 Rémi Cusin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne|
|100 Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Sky Procycling||0:11:02|
|101 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team||0:11:29|
|102 Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen – Mercator||0:13:32|
|103 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Quickstep Cycling Team|
|104 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale|
|105 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Leopard Trek|
|106 Ivan Santaromita (Ita) BMC Racing Team|
|107 Manuele Mori (Ita) Lampre – ISD|
|108 Julien El Fares (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne|
|109 Brian Vandborg (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard|
|110 Jérémy Roy (Fra) FDJ|
|111 Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo|
|112 Xabier Zandio Echaide (Spa) Sky Procycling|
|113 Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Skil – Shimano|
|114 Jan Bakelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:15:13|
|115 Francis De Greef (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:15:14|
|116 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale||0:15:17|
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com