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

Dan Martin Joaquim Rodriguez Liege

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.

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.

Dan Martin Liege

The Verdict
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.

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

  1. Another season has Classics has passed and I am yet to witness one in real life!!! I will comfort myself with plans for a long weekend in Florence in September – and the upcoming summer stage races!

    Bravo Dan Martin!!

  2. whoever at Ag2r realised that they are allowed to be competitive this year deserves a payrise (they are now starting to look like they belong in the top tier of cycling! ). Martin now showing his true class.

    • Well said. It will be interesting to find out what has triggered their performance this season. Blel Kadri, JC Peraud, Maxim Bouet have shined along with established performers like Betancur and Nocentini.

  3. Roubaix was a masterpiece among many great races. Agree that Flanders lacked a bit of fizz but its still an incredibly exciting race.
    Already penned in a trip Paris next year.

    It’s all building toward next year when stage 3 of the 2014 Giro is starting 5 miles from my front door.
    Someone needs to tie me down!

  4. Am I right in thinking he’s had allergy problems in the past? I wonder if the longer winter has helped him to have a better/easier breathing spring. I usually experiencing it badly by early April – usually it starts in mid-march. This year I’ve had no signs of it at all (yet).

  5. This is the first full season of classics I’ve watched (having previously only really watched the three grand tours). Bit of a revelation! Enjoyed MSR and LBL, but Paris Roubaix was a clear highlight. The thrills and spills of the cobbles and the closing stages, the heartbreak for Stybar and the fantastic finish. Seeing Cancellara destroy Sagan the week before was interesting too, but Roubaix had the lot.

    Will definitely be back next year and thanks for the coverage.

  6. Here’s an interesting result from today, in 41st place but only 1:20 down on Martin…


    • This is not an interesting result, it’s just a result.
      Unless it is news that someone can finish a race at last, like 100 others do. Forget this man for this season and forget the obsession with him. He’s done, come over it.

      • Its interesting because Andy hasn’t come that close the to head of a race in 18 months. To finish a minute from the business end of the peloton in a major race is a good result for anyone and way better than Andy has been achieving so its a notable step in the right direction.

      • Also, its worth noting where he finished in relation to those ordered we’d expect to see him competing against if he was at full fitness.

        Schleck was 6 seconds down on Froome and Sanchez and finished ahead of Contador, Quintana and Uran.

        What is most notable about this result is that it isn’t noticeable, if you’d seen this result two years ago nobody would have commented because its decent and perhaps where you might expect him to finish depending on how the race plays out, its not an amazing result but its noticeably not the terrible results or DNFs Schleck has been putting in in the last year. Ten fact that its just a result and not a DNF or last man home type result is what makes it worth picking out.

        • Anyone doubting Schlekette, now is making a big mistake, he will be on good form for the TdF, 1m20s down may not seem like a great result but for someone who is trying to get some form back, he will no doubt take some heart from that.

          I am not his biggest fan but, he is a big race rider, he will be there or there abouts for the TdF

          • You think he’s going to be ‘there or thereabouts’ at the Tour? Best of luck on that one. I’m not a hater but for people to be highlighting the fact that he’s finished, for starters, and didnt come in right at the back of the field, says it all about this season at least for him

          • We’ll see but the injuries he’s had were serious.

            What is unknown is the problems he’s got now. I’ve still not seen whether he’s over the injury now completely, many are left speculating about other things like his motivation, mental state and more.

  7. Until the last 20km, the race was absolutely dire.

    After that though, it got pretty interesting.

    Contador’s attack seemed to liven the race up. I think it was pretty clear that he didn’t have good enough legs to match some of the others in that group, and that Costa deliberately slowed that group up for Valverde, but it was still a pretty exciting moment.

    It was very interesting to see how good Hesjedal was today. It will be good for the Giro if there is a guy who can get in there with Nibali and Wiggins.

    Betancur looks like the real deal.
    If i’m not mistaken, he beat Gilbert in a very classic-esque Tour of Belgium last year, and looks like he could well win one of these Ardennes races next year.

    It’s kind of strange, but I thought both Fleche and LBL seemed to be laking a bit this year.
    Amstel was by far and away the best one, in my view.

      • You’re right but I found it one attack of several and like Quintana, it was reeled in.

        It surely softened up things a lot for Hesjedal though, he’s strong at going away on this kind of slope, it was on a big wide road that wasn’t too steep that he rode away on the stage to Monte Cervinia in last year’s Giro, the move that got him time on Joaquim Rodriguez and ultimately helped him to win the race.

        • True, Contador’s attack didn’t snap the rubberband, but it scared the race into action. Indeed, as you correctly mentioned in your preview through Argentin’s quote, it isn’t the climbs themselves where the best moves go…

          I was actually there that wet, nasty day on the road to Cervinia last May…was impressed by the performance at the time, but didn’t think it’d end up being the winning margin!

          p.s. Dan better have bought Ryder an especially nice beer last night! That springboard to victory never would’ve stayed away without his work.

  8. I’m so delighted for Daniel Martin and Garmin. I was watching in a bar and started yelling ‘frig me, he’s going to win’ when they got to 500m. Pity he won’t get much press tomorrow in Ireland. By god that was beautiful. Ryder Hejsdal reinforced his classiness too.

  9. I knew I should have put some money on this result. Fantastic to see Dan win such a monument and encouraging also that a rider like Dan can win LBL Some big hitters made to look rather ordinary today, or should I say “normal”.

  10. Great riding by Garmin. Pretty amazing that Hesjedal could pull that group alone after the solo effort, Gilbert, half the Astana team and a couple more together couldn’t catch them while Ryder did all the work. Martin got it just right tactically, dosing the effort at the end instead of blowing it all in 10 seconds like Rodriguez, or Valverde a few minutes earlier when bridging to the group.

  11. Nice write up. Dan’s actually pretty nippy from a small group – see Vuelta stage win, Lombardy runner up slot etc. Not a bunch sprinter, by any means, but definitely one of the faster guys when a tough race has whittled things down. Tour stage win seems like a logical next target…

  12. Hesjedal made the race, for me. I really thought he might hold on for the win at one point, but even to finish in the top 10 after that solo effort was a great achievement, and of course he set up his teammate’s chance. Not to take anything away from Dan Martin.

      • The calculation worked out. I’m still over the moon. One of the reasons that I love the sport is the humility and respect that most of the riders have. Dan Martin and Ryder Hejsdal epitomise this

        • Hesjedal made an incredible perf during 15km. After Sprimont I spotted him next to Andy bottom of the pack, then he counter-attacked in Colonster, he held his 20″ from top to St Nicolas against a charging peloton led by Astana and Katusha, was able to catch up with leaders at the top then drove for 3 more kms till the last km and hold on to finish 8th ! That was of the same athletic level than Kreuziger; may be superior.

  13. Not being a French speaker, could you explain the difference in meaning between the labels in that palmares screenshot, “suspension” and “pincé-suspension”?

  14. I ‘m thrilled to see Dan Martin win again and to hear him talking about his team being clean .It’s a real plus for the sport to have an articulate , intelligent rider winning races and talking this way.

  15. Just read the google translate version of the El Pais article. One sentence had a great translation: “que fue un fastidio…” came out as “which was a bummer…”

  16. Good victory for Garmin. It worked perfectly for them and it looks as they had the 2 strongest riders in the race. Recent history of LBL is also full of efficient duo actions : Iglinskyi-Gasparotto; Vino-Kolo, the Schlecks, DiLuca-Pelizzotti, Bartoli-Bettini, Jalabert-Etxebarria. Not an easy company for Martin-Hesjedal if you refer to that TV broadcast opener listing the sinners of the past.

  17. “Saint Nicolas is the patron saint of, amongst others, pharmacists and broadcasters”

    It’s things like this that make reading race coverage unique here. Keep it up!

  18. On a different note, the live footage on SBS here in Australia began with a rider (I didn’t catch who), schlong in hand, taking a rolling nature break. Commentators chose to ignore it at the time, but made a round-about reference to it later on. So funny. Gotta love cycling.

    • The cameras are normally pretty discreet but in a six hour race it’s part of the process. One thing to note is that during a grand tour it’s often when the race leader or someone else sits up to take a pee that everyone let the breakaway up the road go away.

  19. Great win for Dan Martin.

    Interesting addition about Valverde’s electronic shifting issue. I’m no luddite, but how common is that, and when was the last time someone’s mechanical shifting fouled things up for them to that extent?

    • See Bradley Wiggins in the Giro del Trentino last week who arguably lost the race after his gears failed. Mechanicals are part of the sport but electronic gearing seems to have more failures than the standard variety.

  20. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a cable guy just because I can actually fix it quick if something goes wrong. But if I had someone looking after my bike, I’d be on electronic for sure. It won’t be long till the kinks are worked out and even the mtb guys are using it (as much as I hate to say it).

    It reminds me of the move to carbon in the pro peleton in regards to scepticism, it took a while, but now it’s everywhere. But on the other hand, like carbon, plenty of Joe racers still perfer steel and alu because they don’t have a team care with 2 fresh bikes when they’re standing by the roadside w/ a handful of black splinters.

  21. Cadel Evans made an interesting comment after the stage on Friday at Trentino:

    ‘Mechanical issues are part of the sport, but Evans is concerned that competition among some manufacturers for their latest products to be used in racing may prove costly to a rider’s results.

    ”There have been quite a few changes with some of the equipment this year,” Evans said.

    ”Some of the things the cycling industry is doing right now, I am a little bit disappointed with. I can completely understand [Wiggins’] frustration. Being let down by something that is not ready to be used in the race is pretty disappointing.” ‘

  22. I think Dan Martin is going to be a GC contender sometime soon. He’s been gradually improving and, if you really want to look at when this race was won, look at the FW final – that was the moment Dan Martin realised he was no longer an ‘also ran’. He knew then that he could beat Gilbert and Valverde. Also, if we’re crediting the potency of Ryder’s work in the 1-2 punch, we must also look at Moreno’s mechanical as a key moment in proceedings – imagine how different the final would have been with him leading out J-Rod. But yesterday was the day for Garmin and Hesejdal looked awesome ahead of his Giro defence (not forgetting that in the Giro last year, J-Rod couldn’t shake him on the climbs then either).

    Leadership duties for Garmin in Vuelta? He’s earned it. People say he’s a Stagehawk, and it’s true that yesterday’s race was a lot like a medium-mountains super-breakaway stage of the TDF, But to be able to beat J-Rod in an uphill finish is a significant achievement and tells me that Dan Martin has a lot more to offer. And I know the Irish want to claim him as theirs, but sorry lads he’s English, I’m calling it!!

    A footnote on Sky – why was Uran pulling it along late on? Seemed silly to me. Was Lopez working for Uran? Seemed a bit of a mess, strange how they are tactically so astute in stage-races yet seem to be very naive in the Classics.

      • Apparently he declared for Ireland for 2 reasons – firstly, his Mum is Irish. Secondly, he was miffed that British Cycling invested too much money on the track etc. All fair enough. However, his Dad is English, he was born in England and he lived there most of his life. Just because he rides for Irish Cycling doesn’t suddenly mean he’s not English. Think Andy Townsend. Or perhaps don’t. He’s awful. Sorry.

        Perhaps think Eoin Morgan. Yeah he’s chosen to represent England but he’s still an Irishman. Dan Martin can claim to both really…

        • Why do you have to bring that up? Its not sport.

          He wasnt english when he wasnt winning, when he had poor seasons and when he wanted to concentrate on roads riding even if he was wrong that tracks can produce roads winners.

          Anyone heard of a belgian winning last years TdF? NO.

          Ask the man himself, you cant decide for him and nor can we.

          That said, his accent confuses the feck out of the yanks especially when they expect this Irish rider in an American team. They’d get a similar suprise with an ulster accent or a scouser.

          • Just banter really…he was English when he wasn’t winning, just like when he hangs his Sidis up he’ll be English. If he wants to call himself Irish then no problem, however I’d be amazed if he didn’t still consider himself at least half English. I’m happy to share.

  23. Great race. I would argue that the moment the race was won was Hesjdal’s attack on the Colonster. Everything that happened after that was dictated by his move. Either way, an awesome performance by two riders that are admirable riders.

  24. I thought it was a cracking race, possibly as good as Roubaix. No, nothing much happened until the last 20kn, but attacks had been going from the top of La Redoute, a far cry from previous years where, a part from an elite two or three, it’s almost come down to a bunch sprint. Then the last 20km were worthy of a monument, something that couldn’t be said of the dismal Flanders.

    I just hope ASO keep the Colonster in for future editions. Sometimes very steep, very hard climbs just neutralise races – see Fleche Wallone and Flanders as great examples of this.

  25. I spoke to both Dan and his father Neil on this subject; Dan has said for a long time he feels more Irish than English. While a lack of support from British Cycling was likely a factor in his decision, he’s been coming to Ireland for many years on holidays and has more of an affinity for the country than Britain. In addition, his dad told me a few days ago that if he himself had a choice, that he would also declare for Ireland. He said that he didn’t felt at home in Britain for a decade or more.

    Re the comment above ‘just because he rides for Irish Cycling doesn’t suddenly mean he’s not English’ – actually, he’s able to declare for either under the rules, made that decision several years ago and states regularly that he’s Irish. Surely that should be enough to settle it? As Wataboutya said, nobody was trying to lay claim to him when things weren’t going as well as they are now. Please respect his choice…we’ll do likewise if (say) Rory McIlroy declares for Britain, as he’s suggested he might do.

  26. If he really doesn’t consider himself English and is making a concerted effort to distance himself from us oafs then fair enough. If it was something I said Dan I apologise. I’ll cheer for him no more. He’s now bad guy number 1 in my book. Can’t wait for true 100% British Bulldog Chris Froome to slay him.

      • He’s about as British as Dan Martin is Irish, which is either 100%, not at all or somewhere in between depending on your state of mind. So Geraint Thomas is Welsh, Wiggins is an AustroBelge, Dan Martin despises the Imperialists, Froome is a bushman, Cav is a Manxman – is there anyone I can actually claim as English? Please don’t take Stannard away from me. I want to be able to truthfully and patriotically cheer and Englishman without worrying that they’ll disown my red-faced pride through pure shame.

        Rory McIlroy might declare himself British? That would be radical, especially as he’s actually British. Hold on that doesn’t make sense. And even if it did, are you saying that if Rory ‘declares himself British’ then no Irishman can cheer him on as a fellow Irishman? Will declaring for Britain necessitate disowning Ireland completely? No, of course not, and I find it genuinely sad that Dan Martin (and his father) has felt the need to disown their country of birth because of cycling issues

        Britain/England welcomes athletes from all over to compete under our flag, and we don’t require them to completely disown their country of birth, neither are we likely to be offended if someone pipes up saying ‘Good one Mo, a victory for the Dakkar crew’. Mo Farrah may represent Britain, may call himself British and may have lived here most of his life, but he’s still a Sudan lad and the idea that he can’t be a Sudanese hero because he now represents Britian is ridiculous.

        • Having lived in 5 countries on 3 continents I am miffed by all this nationality shit!
          He/she is one of ‘us’!
          British for example, has viking (Scandinavian) in its past, so your bloodline
          is British with a dash of Danish, but there are also a lot of Brits whose families came
          from France roughly 900 years ago, so your bloodline is British with a dash of Danish,
          plus a swig of French…can go on and on! As for being European we can go back thousands
          of years and we are then talking Dravidian, which are those who migrated to Europe from…
          north India!
          Ultimately it says nothing about an athletes sporting performance. You could say that if you
          are Kenyan you would be a great marathon runner, but I’m sure there are Kenyans who suck
          at distance running!
          Now if we were comparing human and Klingon, well there we could have something meaningful to blah blah blah about!
          Patriotism is just another form of group identity association and has virtually no ‘relation’ to the potentials that reside in The Republic of DNA!

          • Very true, and that’s without mentioning that most ‘English’ are half-Celt anyway! The Republic of DNA? Yes, I’ll go along with that theory. But patriotism doesn’t always have to have such negative connotations. Perhaps English patriotism has become mired in a horrible mess of Daily Mail paranoid hatred and Guardian empire guilt. Still, if someone’s good and English I’ll cheer them more than if they’re just good. And by good I don’t mean winning, but performing with style and panache.

            I’m not going to cheer the English Rugby Team because, despite being English and winning a lot, they’re dull and totally lacking in character and flair. However when the Lions play in South Africa I’ll become a big-time fan – they do things with much more style and plus my wife is a Saffer. The vaguely patriotic banter will add to the drama and intensity of the occasion. No harm done, just added passion. I’d love to claim Dan Martin as English, he’s a class on a bike and was well before he won LBL. Sadly it’s not to be. My cheers for him will only go up so far on the richter scale.

      • The point I was making was that Dan has, for whatever the various reasons are, decided that he is racing for a different country. I feel that should be respected; if he says he’s Irish, then that’s what he is. Ditto for Froome and Britain vs Kenya. I’m simply disagreeing with the notion that anyone can be ‘claimed’ if they have declared otherwise (whomever it is!)

        • OK, I just hope you’re around to leap to my defense when Froome is inevitably declared a ‘Plastic Brit’. I also agree that people can ‘become’ a different nationality if they choose to and buy into it. I just think it’s a shame that Dan Martin has apparently decided to symbolically eschew the pleasures of ‘Dual Nationality’. The Mo Farrah argument stands – you can be ‘claimed’ by 2 different countries, or more if you so choose and the fans choose it too. Dan, we could have been great together….

          Ok I’ll let it go.

  27. Home is where the heart is, and beside can´t we all just share his victory and be happy for him. Who gives a shifter!

    Also inrng, it seemed to me from the aerial shot that he closed the gap to Rodriguez quite fast and with a what appeared to be a lot of power. I wonder if he even controlled it a little when he was about to dock? What he did on the Mur 4 days earlier was very impressive and because the focus was on the front we didn´t get a good view of that incredible effort. A bit like what happened to his Uncle when did that famous chase up La Plagne in 97.

    Good read and thanks for Bugs Bunny! Poifect!

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