Calmness and self-belief were the secrets behind Alejandro Valverde’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege success, the Movistar man claimed.
Valverde claimed a third Liege-Bastogne-Liege title with a powerful sprint in Ans to cap a near-perfect Ardennes Week after second place at the Amstel Gold Race and La Fleche Wallonne victory.
And the Spaniard, 35, admitted the emotions of sealing a third Monument win – a victory which sees him rise back to the top of the UCI WorldTour rankings – were overwhelming at the finish.
“It’s just unreal,” he told the team website. “I’m still not able to realize what I have achieved and I couldn’t believe myself when I crossed the line.
“All my three victories here have been beautiful; winning in Liège is phenomenal. However, today’s is even more special after such a complete week: second in Amstel, winner in Flèche, winner in Liège.
“It makes me even happier taking the victory here because of that, doing it in a Monument of cycling… and claiming a third one is entering history.
“I gained strength and confidence through the last few years, and when you’re calm and believe in your chances, everything becomes easier. I think this win is a result of that, too.”
Valverde beat Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) for the second time in five days, after also defeating the 22-year-old Frenchman at La Fleche Wallonne, to become one of only six riders with three or more victories at La Doyenne.
It came at the end of a typically incident-packed day on the Ardennes hills, with eight riders having initially joined the day’s breakaway.
The Cote de Stockeu put paid to their day up the road, with Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Great Britain’s Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) among those who had tried to bridge the gap earlier on.
The following climb, the Cote de la Haute-Levee, saw the peloton shredded further while five men – including Astana team-mates Tanel Kangert and Michele Scarponi going clear at the front.
Further back a number of big names were caught up in crashes – defending champion Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE), the seemingly cursed 2013 winner Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) and Martin’s Irish cousin Nicolas Roche (Team Sky) among them.
Just 40 men remained in the peloton by the time they had crested La Redoute, with Kangert and Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) still up the road and Movistar leading the chase.
The favourites stayed together despite more attacks off the front, but world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep), former winner Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and in-form Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) were all dropped on the Cote de Saint-Nicolas.
As he did 12 months ago, Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) led the way up that final climb, but it was an attack from team-mate Daniel Moreno that ignited the final run-in.
Valverde responded well, however, and after catching his fellow Spaniard was too strong for the eight-man leading group into Ans.
Alaphilippe claimed second place and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) finished third but, as has been a regular occurrence of late, the day belonged to Valverde.
“At the slope of Ans, I was seeing Dani Moreno going away,” he explained. “After such a fast, hard race, with all the wear and tear, I knew everyone was going to be tired and also that I was going to struggled to get him back, but I stayed confident he would suffer at the end.
“I realised he was really going away, wanted to save some energy for the sprint but also knew I had to go after him, so I decided to attack with 600 meters to go to reach him down, but always saving a ‘bullet’ to sprint at the end, as I did.”
Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2015: result
1) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar – 6.14.20hrs
2) Julian Alaphilippe (FRA) – Etixx-QuickStep – ST
3) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha
4) Rui Costa (POR) – Lampre-Merida
5) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Tinkoff-Saxo
6) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
7) Sergio Henao (COL) – Team Sky
8) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
9) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana
10) Daniel Moreno (ESP) – Katusha