Simon Gerrrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) claimed a second Monument Classic victory after winning the 2014 Liege-Bastogne-Liege in a sprint from Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), after defending champion Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) suffered the heartbreak of a crash in the final corner.
The Birmingham-born Irishman appeared to have a second consecutive victory at La Doyenne in his pocket after riding clear of the favourites on the Côte de Saint-Nicolas and latching onto the wheel of the last remaining escapee, Damiano Caruso (Katusha), with just 300 metres remaining.
As Martin scrabbled on the ground, those he had confidently distanced just moments earlier swept past, seemingly unable to believe their luck. No one who wins a 260km Monument Classic can be described as lucky, but fortune smiled upon Gerrans today and shunned the defending champion.
Valverde, winner in mid-week of his second La Flèche Wallonne title, had looked dangerous all day, but did not have the speed to pass Gerrans in the run to the line. Kwiatkowski, still only 23, can look back with pride on his first Ardennes Classics campaign as leader with a second podium, having finished third at La Fleche, and fifth at the Amstel Gold Race.
The race in detail
Six riders wasted little time in riding clear, including Pirmin Lang (IAM Cycling) who featured in the early break a week earlier at the Amstel Gold Race, slipping away at the 12km mark. After just 35km, the group had increased its lead to 11.20.
A further 20km down the road, and the escapees had extended their advantage to nearly 15 minutes. Britain’s Steve Cummings (BMC Racing), winner of the Tour Mediterranean, and riding at Liege for Amstel Gold Race victor, Philippe Gilbert, was the first to sense the danger and to make a concerted effort to stem the advantage of the breakaway.
His lone effort was unsuccessful. The breakaway extended its lead as it passed over the first climb of the day, the Côte de La Roche-en-Ardenne, and by the time the six had scaled its 2.8km slope, their advantage had extended to 15.50.
Michal Koch (Cannondale) was first across the line for the intermediate sprint, but his effort, made from the breakaway, while gaining him 5,000 Euros, was not enough to prevent his confederates from losing a further 20 seconds from their advantage. News of the sprint had seemed to rouse the peloton from its slumber and the lead continued to diminish, albeit by small margins.
Further gains accrued to the bunch as they made their way up the brutal 11 per cent slope of the punchy Côte de Saint-Roch. The leaders’ advantage was reduced to a still-sizeable 14.29. Garmin-Sharp were the next to try and erode their lead, with Thomas Dekker, banned for two years for EPO use in 2009, taking up a position at the head of the peloton.
Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) were two big names who crashed soon after the race had dipped below the 100km to go mark, but both fell onto the grass verge and neither was seriously hurt. Those who suffered collateral damage included Team Sky leader, Richie Porte, Lotto-Belisol’s Grand Tour leader, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, and young French hope, Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), all of whom were delayed by the collision and forced to chase back on.
The third climb of the day, the Côte de Wanne, was the first to cause significant damage to the leaders’ advantage. By the time the peloton had completed its 2.8km ascent, one conducted at an average gradient of 7.2 per cent, the escapees had seen their lead cut to 7.54. The effort ended the hopes of Marco Minnaard (Wanty Groupe Gobert), who lost his place in the breakaway.
Enter the Stockeu
The Côte de Stockeu, reached after 173.5km, was the first of the signature climbs of the race tackled by the riders. An unusual prelude to its ascent came in the shape of OPQS pairing, Tony Martin and Kwiatkowski, launching off the front of the bunch. The effort was short-lived and perhaps merely a show of strength. Up ahead, the Stockeu revealed the good form of Pieter Jakobs (Topsport Vlaanderen) who gained a small advantage on his confederates in the breakaway, seemingly without trying.
A lead of just 6.45 remained to the leaders as they crested the Côte de la Haute-Levée, the longest climb of the race at 3.6km and one that unfolded at an average gradient of 5.6 per cent. Behind, Jeremy Roy (FDJ.fr), made a dig at the front of the peloton, but he was quickly pulled back by Kevin Reza (Europcar). At the back of the bunch, world number one, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), shook his head at the television camera. The Spaniard, second last year and one of the pre-race favourites, appeared still to be suffering from the effects of a crash at the Amstel Gold Race a week earlier.
Pierre Rolland (Europcar) rode off the front of the peloton, before dripping back. A second attack from Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) swept up Minard, shelled from the breakaway on the Côte de Wanne. Enrico Gasparotto, winner in 2012, joined the fray at the front of a suddenly energised bunch in which the strongest riders appeared prepared to show their hands with nearly 80km remaining. Ramūnas Navardauskas, who formed part of a long-range, three-man break at La Flèche Wallonne, seemed eager to make a break but could find no-one willing to join him, and shouted in frustration. Van Den Broeck, meanwhile, was one of the big names who suffered as a result of the attack, and was forced to work hard merely to regain contact with the bunch.
Costa crashes out
World road race champion, Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), was one of four riders to hit the tarmac with 78km remaining, along with Michal Golas (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Torres Agudelo (Colombia) and Team Sky’s David Lopez. Costa abandoned soon after. Sebastian Minard from Ag2r, suffered a high-speed fall moments later, and slid along the ground for some distance before coming to rest. Up ahead, the quintet of escapees pedalled along in relative tranquility, attempting to protect a fast diminishing lead of 5.20.
Rodriguez was next to abandon, the Spaniard clearly having decided that his losses were too great to overcome, and joined 2009 winner, Andy Schleck (Trek), among the DNFs.
Five down, five to go
With 70km and five climbs remaining, an eerie calm descended up the peloton. The escapees, too, quelled their effort and rode in single file with Côte de la Vecquée and the Côte de La Redoute looming. Five kilometres later, Europcar hit the front in numbers, joined by Peter Velits (BMC Racing), perhaps seeking to maximise the peloton’s advantage before the ascent of the Vecquée.
The breakaway still had an advantage of 4.44 as its five-man constituency began to ascend the Vecquée’s 3.1km slope. The bunch continued its sleepy pursuit on the long, straight road behind. As they hit the climb, Mick Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo), came to the front of the bunch, riding for the first time since being cleared by the UCI to return to racing after a suspension for a Clenbuterol positive. Up ahead, Koch was forced to sprint again, but this time there was no 5,000 Euro incentive – his aim was merely to retain a position in the breakaway.
Rogers continued to lead the bunch at top speed as it passed beneath the kite at the top of the Vecquée, clearly relishing his return to action. Other strong riders, perhaps sensing the danger represented by Rogers, responded by moving forward, including Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Rogers’ efforts had helped to trim the advantage of the breakaway to less than three minutes for the first time.
A certain tension in the peloton was clearly visible from the television pictures. which showed a nervous bunch filled with riders jostling for position. Tinkoff-Saxo continued to mass in numbers at its head, resplendent in their blue and yellow jerseys. Europcar too showed a willingness to set the pace, while Daniel Martin’s Garmin-Sharp henchmen worked hard to keep the defending champion in position.
The twisting roads leading to the race’s most famous climb did little to benefit the breakaway, despite the efficiency of their combined effort and willingness to share the workload. The peloton’s effort was relentless and the break saw its advantage reduced to just two minutes with 47km remaining
Côte de La Redoute
The Côte de La Redoute, for so long the position at which La Doyenne has ignited, delivered the expected fireworks in the hundredth edition. Omega Pharma-Quickstep hit the lower slopes hard and in numbers, with team leader, Kwiatkowski, prominently positioned and highly visible in the jersey of Polish road race champion. Tony Martin led the bunch stoically up the 8.9 per cent slopes of the Redoute’s famed incline.
The breakaway was soon decimated by the gradient. Lang was shelled, while Jakobs appeared to be pedalling through treacle. Only Lampre-Merida’s Matteo Bono looked remotely comfortable and crested the summit with a visible advantage over his confederates.
Behind, and as the Reodute narrowed, Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano), winner last year of two stages of the Vuelta a Espana, broke clear of the peloton. Seated, and with a high cadence, the Breton looked at ease, despite the speed of his progress. A response came as La Redoute reached it hardest, with the Colombian Julian Arredondo (Trek) and Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), latching on to Barguil’s rear wheel. Their efforts had not gone unnoticed: pre-race favourite, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), a two-time winner, launched a controlled effort to keep the erstwhile poursuivants in sight.
Bono and Jacobus Venter (MTN-Qhebeka) found that they had shed the last remnants of the breakaway on the Redoute and rode as a pair into the final 47km. Jakobs and Lang formed a second pairing, while Koch found himself back in the bunch, along with Barguil and his associates.
Race smoulders into life
Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) ignited the bunch, but found his effort quickly snuffed out by Ben Hermans (BMC Racing). His effort, however, highlighted again the willingness of many in the peloton to make a race of it and not to allow the outcome to be decided in the closing kilometres as it had been 12 months earlier.
Bono and Venter continued to work together with real purpose and extended their lead from 41″ to 1.08 over their former confederates, Jakobs and Lang, who hung perilously in front of the peloton. The looming prospect of the Côte des Forges, reached with 25km remaining, perhaps spurred them on.
Côte des Forges
Lampre-Merida’s formidable leading duo of Damiano Cunego and Diego Ullissi made a well-timed appearance at the front of the peloton as they began the 1.9km ascent of the Forges. Gerrans, rested mid-week from La Flèche Wallonne, was also prominent. Behind them, serious talents began to the feel the effects of an early shift for their team leaders, including Rory Sutherland (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Peter Wiening (Orica-GreenEDGE).
Lampre-Merida’s excellent afternoon continued with Bono dropping breakaway companion, Ventner, who found himself passed by Navadauskas. Bakelants, meanwhile, continued to suffer further misfortune, this time in the form of a mechanical issue that forced a prolonged wait at the roadside before the OPQS team car hoved into view.
Alex Howes (Garmin Sharp) rode off the front of the bunch, creating a brief fracture in the peloton as seven or eight riders tried to follow him without success. Howes gritted his teeth to cling on to a nine-second advantage over the peloton, and more importantly, to close the gap to leader Bono to just 31 seconds.
Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons
If the American’s role had been to draw the sting of the favourites, he succeeded only in gaining the assistance of Jérôme Baugnies (Wanty) and Denis Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) as they sped towards the 25km to go kite and the iconic Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons.
Up ahead, Bono continued his magnificent ride, and held a margin of 26 seconds with 25km remaining, descending the smooth, flowing roads with aplomb. Ag2r-La Mondiale took up the chase, perhaps thinking of the chances of Domenico Pozzovivo, if his fellow Italian could be caught. The French squad’s team leader, Carlos Betancur, failed to start.
As Bono reached the foot of the 1.5km Roche-aux-Faucons, a wicked climb with a gradient of 9.3 per cent, he had just five seconds in his pocket. The end came swiftly, executed by a bunch led by three riders from Ag2r-La Mondiale. Voeckler was prominent too in what was becoming an all-French assault. Astana and Lotto-Belisol held a watching brief, riding on the shoulders of their French rivals.
Arredondo launched his second assault of the race as the Roche-aux-Faucons ramped up seriously, drawing a response from Pozzovivo and Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing). The Belgian looked very strong and wasted little time in closing down the move. He found himself joined by Valverde, Jelle Vanendert, Daniel Martin, and Jacob Fuglsang (Astana).
Arredondo, clearly having decided upon a strategy of ‘third time lucky’, went again and found himself joined by Pozzovivo. The pair crested the summit together and with daylight between them and the peloton. Samuel Sanchez (BMC Racing), architect of Gilbert’s victory at the Amstel Gold Race a week earlier, took up a solo pursuit on the descent in a bid to cross a 20-second divide.
Sanchez’ escape would not be tolerated by the favourites, and he was soon caught and passed by Kreuziger and Nibali as the road went up again. Dani Moreno (Katusha) hitched a ride on Nibal’s wheel and the trio was soon joined by another trio of strong riders, including Valverde and Belkin’s Lars Peter Nordhuag. Jelle Vanendert was next to bridge,but the group was too good to be allowed to succeed and the remainder of the bunch soon made contact.
Kreuziger, however, would not be denied, and soon launched again, this time to be joined by Kwiatkowski. Again, the bunch was attentive. Up ahead, the diminutive duo of Arredondo and Pozzovivio clung to a 15-second advantage, while Barguil made a second attempt at glory behind them.
The race hots up
With 14km remaining, and all of the favourites well positioned, the race hit top speed. Fuglsang and Jelle Vanendert were among those who looked ready to launch at any time as the 11km to go mark was reached. Movistar and Orica-GreenEDGE both placed riders at the front of the bunch and the pace remained impossibly high as the bunch passed the Standard Liege stadium.
Movistar’s Izagirre brothers led the group through the narrow twisting roads on the outskirts of Liege en route to the finish at Ans, keeping the pace high for team leader, Valverde. Nibali and Fuglsang both looked spent, and the Astana duo slipped quickly through a bunch that had split beneath the effort. Fuglsang somehow responded as the road went upwards and concentrated on reeling in IAM Cycling’s Stefan Denifl, who had eked out a small advantage.
The race finally exploded into life with 5.7km remaining. Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) lit the blue touch paper, passing Arredondo and Pozzovivo, but the latter responded and rode clear with him. Daniel Martin was among the big names who recognised the danger and accelerated and an elite chase group of about 15 riders was quickly formed.
Valverde was the first of the favourites to attack, but was shut down almost immediately by Gilbert. Kreuqizer rode menacingly to the front of the group, and cast a significant glance at his rivals. Cyril Gaultier (Europcar) rode clear in pursuit of Caruso and Pozzovivo, and found himself joined by Jelle Vanendert and Nordhaug, both of whom had been aggressive all day.
Nibali was the next to try his luck, but as soon as he tired, Nordhaug made another attack. Up ahead, the advantage of Caruso and Pozzovivo had been reduced to nine seconds, but both continued to ride with confidence into the final two kilometres and the Côte de Saint-Nicolas.
The diminutive duo continued to work together as the Saint-Nicolas loomed. Weining drove the bunch mercilessly in pursuit as the kite marking the beginning of the climb came into view. Dan Martin needed no further invitation. As soon as the climb began, he launched his attack, and quickly pulled out a lead of about 20 metres. Kreuziger, sensing the importance of Martins’ attack, raised himself from the saddle, but the Irishman found a second wind and after pulling hard left, launched again.
Martin was soon past Pozzovivo and locked on to the wheel of Caruso. Disaster struck in the final corner for the defending champion, however, when he slipped from his bike after making what had appeared to be the decisive move.
Gerrans, Valverde, and Kwiatkowski swept past seconds later and finished in that order. Gerrans, the superior sprinter, was never troubled and raised his arms in triumph to celebrate a second Monument Classic victory after winning the 2012 Milan-San Remo.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2014 – result
1) Simon Gerrans (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – 6.37.43
2) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar – ST
3) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
4) Giampaolo Caruso (ITA) – Katusha +3″
5) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
6) Tom Jelte-Slagter (NED) – Garmin-Sharp
7) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Tinkoff-Saxo
8) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – BMC Racing
9) Daniel Moreno (ESP) – Katusha +5″
10) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +6″