Liège-Bastogne-Liège: The Moment The Race Was Won

For a while it looked like Vincenzo Nibali was going win Liège-Bastogne-Liège but he was reeled in with one kilometre to go by Maxim Iglinskiy and the Astana rider sailed past and soloed to the line, look carefully and you can spot the losing shade of lime green above. But perhaps this time there was no single winning moment and today’s race was instead defined by attrition and endurance?

Euskaltel’s Igor Anton fell in the neutralised zone, cracking his collarbone. If this post is about the winning moment, Anton’s fall could be the moment the Basque team lost its World Tour licence. Only Samuel Sanchez has banked UCI ranking points for the team this year and Anton is arguably the team’s number two and with him out of the upcoming Tour de Romandie, things look harder.

Returning to the race, a break of six riders was the early move of the day, reduced to five when Argos Oil’s Simon Geschke crashed on a corner. With rain and cold conditions the riders were far behind the slowest schedule proposed by the race organisers. Things first livened up when three riders got away from the bunch. Europcar’s Pierre Rolland, Movistar’s Vasili Kiriyenka and Omega-Quick Step’s Dario Cataldo, all ideal riders to send up the road in support of their team leader.

Regarding leadership, Radioshack-Nissan seem to have some troubles behind the scenes. This has erupted in public over who is the directeur sportif during the Tour de France, with the Schleck brothers wanting Kim Andersen but Johan Bruyneel wants… Johan Bruyneel. It’s probably not about who gets to drive the car but more about who runs the team. Anyway we saw the Schleck brothers dropped off the back with 5km before La Redoute, normally the time when you need to be near the front. Maybe they have other things on their mind. We’ll see. Meanwhile even on La Redoute the race struggled to come alive but this was more about TV than racing. Yes, the riders weren’t going beserk with attacks off the front but at the same time the paced picked up and now riders were being ejected from the lead group, only the TV didn’t quite pick this up. It did get the moment Valverde punctured, quickly grabbing team mate Angel Madrazo’s bike but it was several sizes too small, shrunken just like Valverde’s ambitions in the Ardennes.

All changed when the race hit the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons. Vincenzo Nibali led, accelerating and only a few could follow him. As they crested the top of the climb, as highlighted yesterday, this wasn’t actually the top but only the moment when a short descent happened. Instead of looking around to survey the damage done Nibali just went again. Meanwhile behind a select group had formed including Maxim Iglinskiy but also Thomas Voeckler, Philip Gilbert and Enrico Gasparotto.

Riding solo Nibali now had 18km to the finish line and the wind was blowing. But “The Shark” was better alone as the chase group behind was not organised. Nibali just had to put the power down and whilst he was visibly suffering from the effort, his trajectories on the descents and corners were as smooth as every. Meanwhile those behind just couldn’t work together, understandable given the group was so big that if one worked to pull Nibali back then he’d sacrifice his chances for later. So they started attacking each other and the first move to stick was Maxim Iglinskiy and Joaquim Rodriguez. But the Spaniard – never the best wheel given his size – cracked on the Côte de Saint Nicolas. Iglinskiy took off, by now just 25 seconds behind and reeling in the Shark.

Iglinskiy’s winning move was a long play. Save energy, follow the moves; make the selection on the Roche aux Faucons; go with Rodriguez when the chase group wouldn’t work… and then hunt down Nibali. The actual moment of catching the Sicilian wasn’t really where the race was won because Nibali was cooked by then. Iglinskiy rode up, looked at him, and went past just as the road started to rise for the final climb to the line. Indeed when interviewed by Italian broadcaster RAI on the finish line Nibali didn’t have a cross word to say: “it was too windy on the Saint Nicholas, I tried too hard. Iglinskiy is a first rate rider but I’d have preferred if Gilbert had won“. Perhaps the locals felt that way too but Astana took their second win in a spring classic thanks to Iglinskiy dropping all the chasers to catch and pass Nibali in the last 10km.

68 thoughts on “Liège-Bastogne-Liège: The Moment The Race Was Won”

  1. It was impressive finale for Iglinskiy, who looked very strong. Hard to tell how/why a number of the other potential protagonists—Voeckler, Martin, etc.—missed the move to follow. They looked strong enough, but the inchoate nature of the following bunch meant they left it too late.

  2. Maxim Iglinsky solos to win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege ahead of a fading Vincenzo Nibali while teammate and Amstel Gold victor Enrico Gasparatto takes the bunch sprint for 3rd place. Iglinsky didn’t look tired at all after crossing the line. Are the Kazakhs up to their old tricks again?

  3. Not to be a cheerleader but why is it I always get analysis here that I would have never gotten elsewhere? i.e. that Anton was basically the last chance for Euskadi? Great stuff and do us all a favor . . . never change!!

    Velonista: with a finish similar to the Fleche I think most contenders were saving their powder? The agony of a breakaway overtaken on the last climb can burn in the memory I would imagine.

      • I think Mikel Nieve would be a decent choice to lead Euskaltel at the Giro. After all, he won the Queen Stage last year. In addition, this is a pretty good TdF for Sanchez, he is not a bad time triallist in addition to his climbing abilities. He should have a fair shot at finished top 5.

        • Er, Igor Anton was not in Euskatel-Euskadi’s shortlist to ride Giro d’Italia in the first place, it was decided long ago that he would ride only one grand tour (the Vuelta) in 2012.

          • You’re right. I thought he was, that he said no over the winter but this was changed but it seems not, I’ll go and edit the piece above. Either way, he’s out and there will be no points.

  4. Nibali gave all he had, but where was a lieutenant? Anyone for support? Impressive as always. Can’t wait to see him here in May in the ATOC once again!

    The CN ticker said that Gilbert’s father stated that bike size was part of the reason his son has struggled to find his riding style — 1.5cm difference from the Canyon he rode last year. Also, per Rene Caillet, Lelangue “burned” the BMC riders at training camps in Spain, overworking the riders in Winter. What’s up with that? BMC has not come together like they did on paper before the season began. Gilbert faded again; is it true that he and teammates were overworked in Winter combined with adjusting to a different bike size and riding style? And GVA faded back to +8:54. Trouble here.

    Gotta give kudos anyway to Tejay Van Garderen for driving a good pace (and solid work by Santambrogio, too) for BMC, even with the team suffering from being over-trained (?)

    And drama with Bruyneel and Andy (AS: 50th at 5:39 today). Bruyneel is a dictator trying to break Andy’s solid relationship with an excellent DS. We’ll see how this affects Andy’s morale and performance in the TDF and for the rest of the season. The Schlecks have too much class to be on a Bruyneel-run team, same for Cancellara, Voigt, etc. I knew this takeover would fail for the riders under him, such a shame. New team for 2013. Bruyneel’s skin has got to be crawling this season — he thought he was the best in the business and could just steer this huge merger into a big success. Instead he’s whipped up controversy once again. Corrupt loser belongs out of our sport.

    Pierre Rolland was very impressive again for Voeckler, supporting him to 4th place.

    Congrats to Dan Martin (5th) and Ryder Hesjedal (9th) for Garmin — great work, guys!

    Another solid performance by Jelle Vanendert (10th) and Sanchez, who finished 7th without Igor.

    Where were Oscars legs today, tired, I’m sure!

    Yes, this was indeed a race of attrition.

    • I’d give further kudos to Nibali, we should not forget he launched the decisive attack in Milan-Sanremo, the opening “monument” and now he did the same today. It didn’t work but he’s been strong and besides, he’s more of a stage race specialist.

      • @INRNG: Yes, Nibali is this sort of quiet rider who excels VERY well on his own. With Basso struggling this Spring these two haven’t been together as much as I’m accustomed to, but Nibali has remarkable endurance and strength that he solos with. It’s refreshing to see a humble athlete with so much quiet self-confidence. He’s a consistent performer.

        I watched and videoed him on the Stage 2 decisive climb in the 2009 ATOC at age 24; this was the climb where Leipheimer attacked hard and did take the yellow jersey for good that day, but Nibali jumped after Levi and chased up this 7-mile KOM climb (earning points) and showing his athletic prowess. He caught and flew past Carlos Barredo, too. What I really like about Nibali is that he’s not afraid to launch solid attacks with complete confidence in his abilities.

        • In a recent edition of the “This Week in Cycling History” podcast it was pointed out that Bjarne Riis was the last reigning Tour champion to win a Spring classic. Apart from Cadel Evans (who I don’t think will win the Tour again), it seems to me that Nibali might be the next one.

  5. Is anyone else losing patience with the Schleck Sisters? Last year’s loss to Gilbert was inexcusable, and after all the talking they did ahead of L-B-L they look like idiots now. Does anyone else think they should be winning the Giro this year instead of getting steamrolled at the Tour?

    • I’m for the steamroller thing, it’s more amusing. Most riders shrug just shrug off the questions after a poor performance with something along the lines of “didn’t have the legs”, but them two are special …

    • I’ve got more time for them than most. I think today might have been a protest with Bruyneel over the way the team is being run, see the paragraph relating to this above.

      Andy Schleck is one of the sport’s top riders and his “problem” is that he’s such a good climber many take him for a GC candidate. He can go uphill faster than almost anyone else but we can see his physique limits him going down and in the TTs.

      But yes, the Tour this year isn’t for them. But in the economics of the media/advertising, a podium place in the Tour is more valuable than winning the Giro. Sad but true.

      • But we all know the Giro’s insane climbs and parcours are suited for few but Andy. It’s a shame he has to ignore a race he could win in favor of just being at le Tour. We here at limonata don’t rate him for a podium and he may even be outside of the final top 10 with all the TT kms.

      • I really disagree with 2nd in the TDF better than winning the Giro. what is this based on !! you dont count who came second but surly you count Giro winners.

    • @limonata: I agree with INRNG that the Schleck’s (esp Andy) are basically getting screwed by Bruyeel, the dictator. I do believe that they are frustrated with him beyond what any of us know.
      How can you say last year’s loss to Gilbert was inexcusable when Gilbert had the best form of his career all season long?

      To find out that Bruyneel may have planned all along to replace Kim Andersen in the TDF with another DS/driver would infuriate me, too. Andy has a trusting relationship with Kim, and messing with that relationship can really mess up the mind and confidence of a rider. If you consider all the major changes the Schlecks and Cancellara and Voigt, etc. have gone through in a short period of time, your confidence might be rocked, too. Team/ownership changes, bike changes, management changes, DS changes, financial problems — this is enough to throw any rider “off course.”

      Johan Bruyneel was the last thing the L-T riders needed. I’d love to know what Fabian and Jens
      think of Bruyneel running this merged team. Johan always gets what he wants, and in his mind, he’s the mastermind of TDF tactics and strategies. He thinks he can turn everything around for Andy and almost guarantee that he will win this year (though I think his confidence is now waning).

      You can’t change or ignore a rider’s muskuloskeletal makeup. Andy’s already worked with the best sports kinesiologists and bike-fitters and wind tunnel specialists in the past. Johan cannot improve on what Andy doesn’t have, and that’s a body that’s not easily adaptable nor aerodynamic on a TT bike; he also cannot rid Andy of his fear of fast, technical descents. If Johan would wake up and realize he’s not God, he’d clearly see that Andy will probably never win the TDF.

      Andy needs a manager/mentor who truly understands his strengths and utilizes them properly.

        • @Adrian: Ha, ha — he only won the 2010 TDF by default (Contador’s clenbuterol positive) and he personally doesn’t consider that a win. He wants to win it outright, not because a rider says he ate a bad steak.

          @barbara n: Fantastic idea, but I think they’ll be looking for a new team first, but yes, bring Jens along as a DS. And where’s Bob Stapleton these days? It’s getting tougher and tougher to find sponsors with deep pockets who can well-support a team for any length of time. Of course, solid sponsors have been lost to doping scandals.

      • I don’t know if a mentor of that sort exists. Elsewhere Riis and Bruyneel have been rightly critiqued for their doping associations, but it’s hard to argue with their record of success. They’re good. If neither them nor the hand-picked Kim Andersen can coax Andy to perform to the limits of his potential it is likely that nobody will, unless he chooses to change his approach.

        So far, that change doesn’t appear to be happening; in a TT-heavy Tour Andy continues to use a position with the aerodynamic efficiency of a school bus. If today’s pitiful result was simply a rebellion against management, he and Frank are choosing to put personal beefs above the desire to win (though it’s nice to see them a bit agitated).

        There’s still lots of time for Andy to build a respectable record of wins, but right now he looks more like a Jan Ullrich who never quite lives up.

      • To Quote you” Andy’s already worked with the best sports kinesiologists and bike-fitters and wind tunnel specialists in the past.” I am sorry but have you seen his position on his bike !! what are you taking about ? his TT and Road bike position is a disaster . neither Specialized neither Trek could put him right on a bike . ( not that both brands know anything about bike fitting). I mean the guy is using down stem ! madness.

        • @ali and @Duluth BC: What neither of you realize about Andy Schleck is this: his skeletal proportions are very unique, certainly not ideal for a TT. His position on a TT bike has nothing to do with lack of skill on the part of the fitters, the kinesiologists, biomechanists, physicists, etc.

          Andy has disproportionate skeletal makeup that will NEVER allow any expert to fit him ideally aerodynamic on a TT bike. Extremely long torso combined with very long humeral bones (upper arms) and short forearms. This combination is disastrous for a TT because his chest rides too high due to his long upper arms, creating a wind-catching pocket (drag) in his chest/torso area. He simply can’t get lower positioning without his ride being painful.

          When a TT-ist has drag caused by air being caught [anywhere], they will always have a slower time than others who are more aerodynamic on their bike. It’s not Andy’s fault, nor is it the fault of any of the bike fitters. It’s Aerodynamics and Physics combined with his skeletal disproportions.

          You both obviously know nothing about functional skeletal anatomy and bike fitting if you say that Specialized and Trek don’t know how to fit bikes. Look up how many UCI World Tour races, Classics, TTs and Grand Tours have been won on Specialized bikes. And that’s not even counting lower rated races.

          Gee, I’ll name a few: (all won on Specialized bikes)

          – Fabian Cancellara (former World TT Champion) (Saxo Bank)
          – Tony Martin (World TT Champion) (HTC; Omega-Pharma Quickstep)
          – Alberto Contador (Astana and Saxo Bank)
          – Tom Boonen (Quickstep)
          – Mark Cavendish (HTC)
          – Sylvain Chavanel (Quickstep)
          – Matthew Goss (HTC)
          – Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner, Astana, Omega-Pharma Quickstep)
          * There are many, many more winners who have won on Specialized bikes, and I have not even listed the numerous winners on Trek bikes.

          • I forgot to mention the latest winner on a Specialized bike:

            Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana)

            @ali: Now you tell me after reviewing my list of Specialized winners that their “bike-fitting team” doesn’t know how to fit a rider to a bike. Until you know all the facts, best not to shoot your mouth off.

  6. The Schelcks need way way less talk, and more more results. They are overdoing press conference.
    I understand their frustation, Velonews said Bruyneel wants to break their comfort zone. That’s some in-house mess. Kim Anderson got them to TDF podium 2-3 years straight, I’d say he did a pretty damn good job. That’s something most DS would want their riders to get for years. I hope the bros turn out okay comes July.

    • Yes, Bruyneel seems to be trying to toughen them up a bit. I’ve never blogged on the subject but it’s worth stating Leopard as a team came about because Frank Schleck in particular wanted a big say in the running of a team. A team manager who ignores this risks finding his star riders leaving the team very soon.

        • One thug for another. Both have doping pasts and unethical philosophies.

          They don’t call Bjarne Riis “Mr. 60 Per Cent” for nothing, referring to his RBC count being always above the 50% allowable max.

          Johan’s ties to doping are very long-lived; besides his own doping as a rider, he then managed teams linked with specific rider doping: US Postal, Discovery Channel, Astana and RadioShack (and who knows what’s going on with specific riders at RNT)?

  7. Ive been writing alot about the Euskaltel-Euskadi situation. As a massive fan of the team, I have to say that today has been one of the worst this year for me. Euskaltel are such an honest, hardworking, driven team investing in cycling for all the right reasons. They deserve better than what is now probably pretty inevitable…

  8. Nice wrap-up and interesting comments. Now we wait to hear the whining and excuses of the Schlecks…sort of amusing since they’ve been built up by TV’s Heckyl and Jeckyl into fan faves in the USA. Kim Andersen should be looking for a new job—very soon, his days are numbered as nobody messes with The Belgian. Can he browbeat lil’ Schleck into winning LeTour? I wonder, as I don’t think Andy races fueled by anger/revenge like the guy who made The Belgian famous. I’m thinking rather than the most astute DS in modern cycling as he’s so often portrayed, he’s more of an cunning opportunist and one-trick pony. Today the race was won when Iglinsky decided he would try to chase down Nibali. Vincenzo made the race, as what would have happened had he not made the move? It didn’t work out, but just like Lombardia, he TRIED TO WIN rather than raced not to lose. I hope Liquigas lets him try to win the Giro again rather than wasting him on LeTour.

    • @Larry T: Vincenzo will be riding in the Tour of California (ATOC), not the Giro this year. He also rode the ATOC in 2009 (not sure about previous editions) with Ivan Basso. Peter Sagan will also be back for the ATOC as excellent preparation for his debut TDF, as it involves some epic climbing at high altitudes with a mix of rollers and a TT. “Liquigas gave him the right to lead in France this year and told Ivan Basso to focus on a third Giro title.” Nibali said his program will be the ATOC, Dauphine and the TDF.

      I think Nibali will perform well in this year’s Tour — he’s ready. Sagan plans to be 100% for the London Olympics and not in peak form for the Tour, but even a 90% Sagan is amazing! Nibali as captain and Sagan as a domestique in France, sounds like a winning combo to me.

      • Probably a stretch to call the climbing at the ATOC “epic,” but it is real and it won’t murder the legs for July.

        I agree that Nibali looks like a good candiate for Tour success this year. He is a good time trialer, and while I don’t see him dropping Cadel on the climbs, he can certainly best the pure climbers and make the podium. A win is not out of the question. If there is a year for him to make a run at the Tour this is it.

        • Also, while there are few mountain finishes, there are a few stages that end on a downhill after some not insignificant climbing. Could be ideal for a Nibali/Sanchez to attack.

      • Roadie61 – I’ve read all this too, but still hope Nibali races the Giro instead of going off to CA for the “vacation in the sun” as so many of the riders seem to ride the ATOC. How many REALLY care about winning this race vs getting some training in and enjoying fancy hotels?

        • There are many days on the race calendar that are more prestigious than other days. But, everyone has their own goals, and EVERY race can be a training day for someone.

          Nibali seems to appreciate the concept of prestige. In the quote that INRNG included above, he says he would have preferred to lose to Gilbert rather than Iglinskiy. Zing!

          I guess Nibali must also prefer to “waste” himself trying to win the TdF rather than the Giro. It doesn’t get more prestigious than the Tour, even in the losing!

        • @LarryT: I live in CA. Seems so many think we all bask in an endless Summer. Last year’s ATOC saw major snow storms cancel Stage 1 at Lake Tahoe at 6200 ft in elevation, in May. Stage 2 had to be moved down out of the Sierras to avoid another cancellation due to snow.

          I resent the implication that the ATOC is a race no one really cares about winning. Michael Rogers (Aus) won it in 2010, but the other five years were all won by Americans; given that some of the best Euro riders in the WT ride it each year, I’m surprised one of them hasn’t yet won it.

          This year will include: V Nibali, Peter Sagan, Tom Boonen, the Schlecks, LL Sanchez, Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank’s been in every edition)…GreenEdge will ride this year. Here’s a list of the UCI Pro Teams riding this year:

          • BMC Racing Team (USA)
          • Rabobank Cycling Team (Ned)
          • Garmin-Barracuda (USA)
          • RadioShack-Nissan (Lux)
          • Liquigas-Cannondale (Ita)
          • Omega Pharma-QuickStep (Bel)
          • AG2R La Mondiale (Fra)
          • GreenEdge Cycling Team (Aus)

  9. As regards shleck he’s missing a trick surely. Talk about doing the double, win the giro and then say it was too hard and was burnt out for the tour. Would be in illustrious company from recent years

      • @INRNG: I must’ve missed something. Is your blog not going to be daily any longer this season?

        Say it ain’t so! It took me so long to find a well-written, informative blog where 98% of your readers write thoughtful, informed comments.

      • @INRNG: I also read that Astana is interested in signing Nibali, but then I read a more recent article where Nibali says he’s confident he’ll be re-signing with Liquigas-Cannondale. Who really knows?

        Astana’s management would just corrupt the Italian.

      • I think Nibali’s words mean to say that it would have been easier to lose to a Belgian champion like Gilbert in a race like Liege instead of someone like Maxim Iglinskiy who, despite being a great rider, does not have the champion’s pedigree of Gilbert. If you are going to get beaten, you want it to be by the best.

    • I think Nibali was merely saying if he was to lose like this, he would have preferred to have been beaten by Gilbert rather than a guy nobody expected much from and who is not a big star. One of those things you say at the end of the race when you’ve killed yourself but didn’t win. I wouldn’t make much of it.

  10. The way Nibali entered the downhill corners had me almost close my eyes. I was rooting for him, certainly, but when Iglinsky got him, I had to admit, he deserved the win.

  11. Given Rolland was following attacks even after being brought back, I have to wonder how he would have gone if had swapped team roles with Voeckler.

    • Good point Robert. I felt sorry for Dan Martin trying to get a bit of help from Rolland when they attacked the bunch. He needed just a bit of help and they just may have bridged to Iglinskiy if Rolland had helped at all. However, kudos to Rolland for being in the break all day – an exceptionally strong ride to then hold on in the finale – but he could have got on the podium if he’d contributed. I hope we don’t see him waiting for Voeckler again in July, he could be the real deal.

      As for the Schlecks, I just don’t get the fondness from the public. Vroomen was quite open about why he ceased sponsoring Team CSC (he didn’t accept the bull about the innonence of F Schleck’s links to Fuentes). Personable guys but there’s a whiff, sorry. Less of an issue but they also whinge too much.

  12. InnerRing, your writing style is getting even better, and I want to say that I appreciate it!! Thank you.

    On Bruyneel: If you had a chance to win the TdF, and you had a guy who has been in charge of more of those wins than any other active DS, and one who had found a way to manage the feuding Contador and Armstrong onto the same podium at the same race, well why would you choose any other guy to run a team? We don’t know what is going on behind the scenes, but it is going to be much more than we see. I’d put my support to Bruyneel on this Tour.

    • “why would you choose any other guy to run a team?” Cos the Schleck’s (TdF team leader and teammates?) don’t respect/like that guy?

  13. The artive is completely glossing over the fact of team tactics.

    Astana’s classics trio (Gasparotto, Kiserlovsky, Iglinsky) have been up there during the entire race and were the only team to have three riders by the end. And that has been that way all week. At Amstel they shot with Gasparotto and the other two still Top 15’d. At FV Kiserlovsky was 5th but still all three got top 15.

    And both of Astana’s major classics’ wins weren’t really all that unexpected to anyone who actually followed cycling.

    • I follow cycling, but I only know what I read about or watch on the tube. Glad you made the point about Astana’s race tactics. It’s good to learn other perspectives.

  14. What I found interesting was Vanendert was complaining he had Voekler as a passenger because Rolland was ahead with Dan Martin. But Rolland never helped Martin either. So what exactly was Europcar’s strategy?

  15. On hind sight we should have seen this coming- Nibali did exactly what he did at MsR- Used his remarkable strength to make the selection, paid the price given his lack of elite, elite TT ability, and then get beaten by a hardened, experienced, damn strong professional racer…Still Chapeau for a classy attempt

    I do appreciate that Nibali tried to go for the win, and the massively disorganised mass of tentative racers behind could take a note from this bold strategy and go for wins, as opposed to wait for someone else to bridge. I think that Cancellara has shown again and again (and Boonen re-iterated this year) that when you see a committed attack from a rider with an established Palmares in the last 3rd of the race, you need to click down and get on that wheel, and stop looking around for someone else to take up the slack…

    Cheers on a great blog!

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