With one kilometre to go Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) has attacked and immediately gets a gap. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) chases but Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) comes around him and slowly closes the gap to catch a labouring Rodriguez. As they approach the final bend Dan Martin uses the last part of the slope to drop Rodriguez and solo away for the win, capping a fine piece of teamwork with Ryder Hesjedal. This was the moment the race was won.
A race of two halves
As the name suggests, the race rides to Bastogne before turning around for the return leg. Only the second half is longer and much tougher. So when the early breakaway reaches Bastogne after just 98km and with a double-digit lead, it’s never enough.
The race took off on the Stockeu and Haute Levée with Blanco’s Slagter one of the first to soften things up. The gap slipped up again as the race reached the feedzone but onto Col du Rosier, the high point and the bunch accelerated with Team Saxo-Tinkoff leading the charge. The started the first of several team effort. At various points in the race we saw Team Sky, Astana, BMC and OPQS putting their riders into a train on the front of the race but each would come away empty-handed.
It’s said 8,000-10,000 people were on La Redoute and there were many camper vans giving the climb an air of the Alps but the difference was that with 40km to go we still had a very large bunch. The group sped up the climb and caught the early breakaway. Sky’s David Lopez was the first to attack and he went clear with several others. But this wasn’t a high point of the race, hopefully none of the spectators had paid for tickets. On the false flat over the top more went clear with Romain Bardet visible along with Damiano Cunego. BMC had missed the move and were forced to chase.
The Monster of Colonster
Onto the Côte de Colonster. The new addition isn’t an exciting climb, neither scenic nor particularly difficult. Early attacks by Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador had failed, their acceleration dulled by the drag of the Colonster. But its regularity was ideal Ryder Hesjedal who took off from a select group. British cycling journalist Lionel Birnie has likened Liège-Bastogne-Liège to a pot of water on a stove in that it can take time to heat up but it starts to bubble and suddenly the heat is on. Over the Colonster and Hesjedal had a slender solo lead. The Canadian pressed on and behind it was hard proving hard to chase.
Saints and Sinners
Onto the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, often the decisive climb of the race. Saint Nicolas is the patron saint of, amongst others, pharmacists and broadcasters. The TV broadcast opened with a list of past winners of the race, annotated with the sins of past victors.
— Reno (@renovandael) April 21, 2013
But the broadcasters had their prayers answered today as the race was turned upside down on this climb. If Hesjedal was caught there was a risk that the race could see a big bunch sprint. But a series of attacks changed everything. Carlos Betancur was the first move, soaring like a Contador across to Hesjedal. Philippe Gilbert sat up and looked behind, drifted across and provoked a wave of riders than saw Dani Moreno crash. Ahead Dan Martin was cleverly marking the moves, covering the attacks and following Michele Scarponi as a select group went clear.
On towards the finish in Ans and a group of six had formed. Hesjedal was towing Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez, Betancur and Scarponi. Valverde looked comfortable and you wondered if Hejesdal was going to take him to the finish in an armchair, after all Martin doesn’t have a big sprint. Behind the bunch was being led by Astana with Vincenzo Nibali personally leading the charge for team mate Gasparotto.
Rodriguez Bolts, Valverde’s Volts, Martin Charges
The race climbed into Ans, the grimy brick houses of the Rue Walthère Jamar were transformed into a sporting arena. With one kilometre to go Rodriguez took off. What was he doing? Normally he’s a punchy rider with a fast finish and going for a long one seemed a surprise. But for a moment it looked to be the winning move as Scarponi gave up the chase. Meanwhile Valverde was nowhere, El Pais reported problems with his electronic gearing meaning he couldn’t respond to the moves in the final. But Martin’s batteries weren’t dead, he came around Scarponi and charged across to Rodriguez who wasn’t quite on top of the big gear he was pushing. It still looked awkward for the Irishman, once again Rodriguez packs a sprint. But with the slope about to run out Martin jumped and rode away to enjoy the final straight and celebrate his win.
Some exciting racing where the result wasn’t certain until the last corner. It took a while to get going but from the top of La Redoute we saw too many attacks to count.
This was also a victory for offensive team work, the policy of sending riders up the road rather than trying to lock down the race by placing a train on the front of the bunch. Hesjedal and Martin played the perfect 1-2 move all whilst at the front of the race. The same for Katusha, who had supplied riders in attacks earlier, think Caruso, and again Movistar (Valverde + Quintana), Lampre-Merida (Scarponi + Cunego) and Ag2r (Betancur + Bardet). By contrast the teams that relied on big trains were derailed. BMC did a lot of work but Gilbert was off the pace and heavily marked. Sky and Astana lost out too.
It’s also a fine win for Dan Martin. He won the Tour of Catalonia which counts for plenty but his stage win was helped a crash in the bunch by Valverde which saw the peloton ease up. That’s racing but today’s result left nobody in doubt, Martin was the strongest. We saw him puncture in the Flèche Wallonne and use precious energy to catch the bunch and pick his way back up to the lead to finish fourth. Things might have been different without the puncture.
The Season’s Verdict
It took time to get going but Liège-Bastogne-Liège offered plenty of excitement. It’s been a varied classics season where surely Paris-Roubaix was the highlight? Milan Sanremo started in icy chaos but delivered a surprising final with Ciolek. The Amstel offered variety and rewarded attacking riding. The Tour of Flanders is such a great race but the 2013 edition wasn’t the best vintage, the big open roads in between the Kwaremont-Paterberg combo seem to scare others from attacking. That’s it for the classics.
Now for the stage races with the Tour de Romandie and soon the Giro.