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Despite being isolated in the front group, Valverde controlled everything perfectly on the final rise to Ans, bringing back a strong Moreno and beating Alaphilippe and Rodriguez in a 10-rider sprint

Photo: Sirotti

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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JOAQUIM RODRIGUEZ OLIVER

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JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE

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LIÈGE - BASTOGNE - LIÈGE

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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26.04.2015 @ 17:33 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) brought a magic Ardennes campaign to the perfect end when he took his third win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege after an incredible performance on the final rise to Ans. Despite being isolated, he controlled the situation perfectly, brought Daniel Moreno (Katusha) back and finally won the 10-rider sprint, with Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) completing the podium.

 

For the second time in his career, Alejandro Valverde can travel back to Spain with the Fleche Wallonne-Liege-Bastogne-Liege after he took a memorable win in La Doyenne, the oldest race on the calendar. With an outstanding performance, he proved that he was clearly the strongest rider in this year’s Ardennes classics by coming away from a difficult position with a memorable third victory in Liege.

 

After his impressive performance in Fleche Wallonne, Valverde went into the race as the overwhelming favourite and this made things hard for the strong Spaniard. In a wet and rainy finale, he found himself isolated against several strong rivals and had to shoulder the entire responsibility to control the many attacks.

 

After an aggressive showing by Astana early in the race, Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) escaped on the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons with 19km to go. They were joined by Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) on the subsequent rise and after many attacks, a 30-rider group gathered behind the trio.

 

Valverde only had Giovanni Visconti at his side and found himself on the defensive when the gap went out to 35 seconds. He was given a lifeline by the Etixx-QuickStep team which still had three riders in the group. Zdenek Stybar hit the front to bring Michal Kwiatkowski and Julian Alaphilippe into contention and the outstanding Czech did an incredible work to gradually reduce the deficit.

 

As they hit the bottom of the Cote de Saint-Nicolas with 6km to go, the gap had been brought down to 12 seconds and the attentive Valverde had positioned himself behind Stybar in second position. As the Czech swung off, he made a small acceleration while the group started to splinter.

 

That was the signal for Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) to make his expected move but the Italian was unable to distance his rivals. Instead, Sergio Henao (Sky) gave it a go but when he made it across to the three leaders, he had the rest of the small lead group in tow.

 

Kreuziger continued to ride on the front while riders like Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Kwiatkowski and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) got distanced. As they crested the summit, only Caruso, Fuglsang, Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez, Daniel Moreno (Katusha), Domenico Pozzovivo, Romain Bardet (Ag2r), Alaphilippe, Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Henao, Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky), Kreuziger and Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) had made the selection.

 

The pace went down which prompted Bardet to try an attack but Caruso and Valverde was quick to shut it down. As Nibali, Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty) had joined forces to form a chase trio and Kwiatkowski, Gallopin, Vasil Kiryienka (Sky), Robert Kiserlovski (Tinkoff-Saxo) formed a group a little further back, Caruso went to the front to keep the chasers at bay.

 

The Italian worked hard until the hit the bottom of the final rise into Ans but just as the road started to rise, the Nibali group made the junction. That’s when Caruso swung off and Valverde found himself on the front.

 

Moreno made the first attack and it was Meintjes who tried to follow him. While he rode in second wheel, the South African lost ground and suddenly Valverde found himself a few metres behind Moreno.

 

Everybody was looking at Valverde to close to the gap and as he was not ready to go full gas yet, Moreno got a big gap. This forced Valverde to accelerate very early with 500m to go and he quickly distanced the rest.

 

Rodriguez managed to join his compatriot and they made it back to Moreno. As the trio slowed down, 10 riders gathered at the front in the final turn with 200m to go when Kreuziger, Fuglsang, Pozzovivo, Bardet, Costa, Henao and Alaphilippe joined them.

 

Valverde launched a long sprint from the front and from there the outcome was never in doubt. Rodriguez was not even close to passing him while an incredible Alaphilippe came from behind to take another second place, passing the Katusha rider just before the line.

 

With Liege-Bastogne-Liege done and dusted, the classics campaign has come to an end. The next WorldTour race is the Tour de Romandie which starts on Tuesday while the next major race in Belgium is the World Ports Classic in the middle of May.

 

A traditional course

The 101st edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege was held on a classic 253km courset hat brought the riders from the start in the centre of Liege to Bastogne and back to Liege for a finish in the suburb of Ans. Along the way, they would tackle a total of 10 categorized climbs which were almost all located in the second half of the course. The most famous climb was the Cote de la Redoute which summited with 34.5km to go and was followed by the steep Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons 15.5km later. Finally, the riders would tackle the short Cote de Saint-Nicolas whose top came just 5km from the finish and finally the riders would go up the small 1km rise to the finish in Ans.

 

There were no non-starters when 200 riders gathered under a cloudy sky in Liege for the start of the final Ardennes classis. As usual, there was attacking right from the gun but the opening move by Valerio Conti (Lampre-Merida) didn’t pay off.

 

Aggressive start

The attacking continued for a while, with Julian Arredondo (Trek) and Andreas Stauff (MTN-Qhubeka) being among the early aggressors, but no one was able to get a significant advantage before Preben van Hecker (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Rasmus Quaade (Cult) took off. The pair stayed away for a few kilometres but after 15km of racing, it was back together.

 

3km later a new break with Moreno Hofland (LottoNL-Jumbo), Arthur Vanoverberghe (Topsport), Tim De Troyer (Wanty), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Laurent Pichon (FDJ), Sjoerd van Ginneken (Roompot) and Alex Kirsch (Cult) got clear. They managed to stay clear for 4km before they were brought back too.

 

The break gets clear

The elastic finally snapped a little later when Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Otto Vergaerde (Topsport Vlaanderen), Clement Chevrier (IAM), Marco Minnaard (Wanty), Anthony Turgis (Cofidis), Cesare Bendetti (Bora-Argon 18) and Quaade got an advantage. After a small fight, the peloton finally slowed down and at the 43km mark the gap was 3.35.

 

Hofland was in a determined mood and the Dutchman set off in pursuit. He got to within 1.40 of the leaders before he started to lose ground. Meanwhile, the advantage over the peloton reached 7.45 before Europcar started to chase. At the 50km mark, they had reduced their deficit to 7.30.

 

Hermans abandons

Reinier Honig (Roompot) also decided to try to bridge the gap but on the first climb, both he and Hofland were brought back. Meanwhile, Vergaerde led the break over the top while Europcar led the peloton across the line 5.40 later.

 

The Europcar continued to lead the peloton and when they reached the turning point in Bastogne, they had brought the gap down to 4.45. At the feed zone, it was only 4.00 but when they reached the 115km mark, the escapees had managed to stabilize the situation. At this point, an in-form Ben Hermans (BMC) had to leave the race after he fell ill a few days ago.

 

A fight for position

Vergaerde was again the first rider at the top of the Cote de Saint-Roche when the riders hit the hilly zone. At this point, Lotto Soudal had joined forces with Europcar on the front of the peloton. They quickly disappeared though but Europcar continued. With 100km to go, they had brought the gap down to 2.30.

 

As the riders approached the Cote de Wanne, the fight for position intensified and the Europcar riders got swamped. Sergey Lagutin hit the front for Katusha before LottoNL-Jumbo took over with Hofland and Orica-GreenEDGE hit the front. The fast pace meant that the gap melted away and it was down to just 55 seconds when they hit the climb.

 

Astana take control

The slopes took their toll as Vergaerde and Quaade were both distanced. Moments later, Chevrier also fell behind while Astana hit the front of the peloton with Alessandro Vanotti doing an impressive work. The Italian kept the gap at around 45 seconds while several riders got dropped from the peloton and Vergaerde, Quaade and Chevirer were brought back.

 

Minnaard was the first to crest the summit while Vanotti continued to ride fast in the peloton, bringing the gap down to 30 seconds at the bottom of the Cote de Stockeu. That’s when they played the next card as Andriy Grivko (Astana) attacked.

 

Lots of attacks

Montaguti led the peloton over the top of the climb and moments later Grivko joined the escapees on the lower slopes of the Cote de Haute-Levee. Gorka Izagirre (Movistar) had also attacked and he made it across while the attacks from a Katusha and a Tinkoff-Saxo rider did not pay off.

 

Minnaard and Turgis got dropped from the break while Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) attacked to quickly join the leaders. At this point, the race was uncontrollable and suddenly a 25-rider group had gathered as riders like Stybar, Tanel Kangert (Astana), Fuglsang, Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE), Davide Formolo (Cannondale), Bardet, Julian Arredondo (Trek) joined the group.

 

A quintet is formed

There was no great cooperation and so Kangert attacked again. He was joined Chaves and Arredondo while BMC started to chase from the peloton. They quickly brought the chase group back before Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Michele Scarponi (Astana) attacked.

 

Those two riders made it up to the front trio and so a quintet had gathered at the top. The peloton slowed down as they went through the feed zone and so the gap went out to 25 seconds before Lagutin started to chase for Katusha.

 

The break splits up

As they went up the Col du Rosier, the gap grew and at the top it was a minute. At this point, Boaro and Arredondo had been distanced.

 

Now Movistar hit the front with Jose Herrada and he kept the gap at around a minute. As they hit the Col du Macquisard, Arredondo sat up and moments later both he and Boaro were back in the fold.

 

A big crash

Etixx-QuickStep and Katusha were now chasing with Movistar as Herrada, Lagutin and Petr Vakoc worked hard. At the top, the gap was only 45 seconds and now the fight for position was about to intensify.

 

This caused a few crashes. First Rafael Valls and Dominik Nerz went down but later a much bigger tumble took out the likes of Dan Martin, Frank Schleck, Simon Gerrans, Nicolas Roche, Paul Martens, Mathias Frank, Tom Jelte Slagter and Pierre Rolland. Meanwhile, Etixx-QuickStep hit the front and it was Maxime Bouet who led the group onto the Cote de la Redoute with a deficit of 20 seconds.

 

Slow pace on La Redoute

Boeut dug deep on the lower slopes while Kangert dropped out of the front group. Behind, Meintjes launched the first attack but as he didn’t get clear, it was a pretty slow pace all the way to the top, with Astana patrolling the front.

 

Just after the summit, Kanstantsin Siutsou (Sky) attacked and he stayed clear for a little while. However, Herrada and Tiago Machado (Katusha) started to chase and so he decided to sit up with 29km to go.

 

Kreuziger attacks

Machado was now the only rider doing the work but he did well to bring the break back with 23km to go. That’s when Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty) took over and he was the first rider to hit the Roche-aux-Daucons.

 

Alberto Losada (Katusha) set a hard pace while the group started to splinter before Kreuziger took off halfway up the climb. He was joined by Caruso while Rein Taaramae chased hard for Astana.

 

Fuglsang joins the leaders

After the top, Fuglsang attacked and as Taaramae stopped chasing, this opened the door for new attacks. Visconti and Alaphilippe were the first to try and after Gallopin, Moreno, Costa, Grivko, Samuel Sanchez had all tried, it was a group with Alaphilippe, Bardet, Visconti, Moreno and Costa that formed.

 

Fuglsang joined the front duo while the attacking continued. Nibali and Warren Barguil both tried to get clear and Thomas Voeckler and Philippe Gilbert also gave it a go. However, no one managed to get clear and the Costa group was also back. That’s when Stybar hit the front at a time when the gap was 25 seconds to start the exciting finale.

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