Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) won Liege-Bastogne-Liege to record a victory he described as the biggest of his career “by a long way”.
The Kazak hunted down and rode straight past Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), whose solo attack on the descent of La Roche aux Faucons had appeared decisive.
Nibali continued to lead over the final, brutal climb of the Côte de Saint Nicolas, but Iglinsky’s relentless solo pursuit, begun on the slopes of the same climb, reeled in the Italian within sight of the finish line in Ans.
Iglinskiy said: “When I went for it, chasing after Nibali, I thought I had no chance of victory. I thought I was fighting for second.
“But then I managed to catch him, I saw he wasn’t in a good place, and went for it straight away. It’s the biggest win of my career by a long way.
“I thought I could do better in cobbled Classics like Ghent-Welvegem and E3 Harelbeke, not in a ‘Monument’ like this one. But I was wrong.”
Nibali caught the leaders knapping after they crested the summit of the Faucons, and with his superb descending skills, last witnessed in a ‘Monument’ dropping off the Poggio with Cancellara and Gerrans at Milan-San Remo, soon opened a gap over an elite chasing pack that included last year’s winner, Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol), second at the Amstel Gold Race.
The Italian then displayed his climbing talent, reprising the performances that had brought stage and overall victories at Tirreno-Adriatico in March to crest the summit of the brutal Saint Nicolas alone.
But despite a committed run to the finish, he could not escape the relentless Iglinskiy, who reeled in and passed Nibali with seeming ease, leaving the exhausted Italian to cross the line alone some 20 seconds later; a disappointing finish to a courageous ride on which Nibali had staked everything on victory.
Enrico Gasparoto, winner of the Amstel Gold Race seven days earlier, made it two out of three on the podium for Astana, after outsprinting Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Ireland’s Daniel Martin (Garmin-Barracuda).
Martin had put in a gutsy ride, attacking from a group of favourites on the Faucon with Europcar’s Pierre Rolland, a rider who had engaged in several attacks of his own.
Gilbert, the defending champion, spent much of the day at the sharp end of the race, riding in the shelter of teammates of Tejay van Garderen and latterly Mauro Santambrogio.
The Belgian champion, who had until that point ridden a ridden a fine race as a vigilant road captain, orchestrating his team’s pursuit of an eight-man breakaway from La Redoute, assumed the leader’s role when the chips went down on the Faucon, but didn’t quite have the form that had sealed his hat-trick of wins in Aredennes Classics last year.
Gilbert said: “I have no regrets, the team did a terrific work around me and I gave it all I had, so I have no regrets.
“As always, the race was really hard this year due to the wind and the breakaway that created some chaos in the peloton. It’s always the strongest men who win here. So if I was not here to contest the finish, that means that I was missing a bit.”
Liege-Bastogne-Liege – result
1) Maxim Iglinsky (KAZ) – Astana – 6.43.52
2) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Liquigas-Cannondale +21”
3) Enrico Gasparotto (ITA) – Astana +36”
4) Thomas Voeckler (FRA) – Europcar
5) Daniel Martin (IRL) – Garmin-Barracuda
6) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Rabobank
7) Samuel Sanchez (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi
8) Michele Scarponi (ITA) – Lampre-ISD
9) Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) – Garmin-Barracuda
10) Jelle Vanendert (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol