Alejandro Valverde’s Indian summer to an already glorious career continued with a third victory at Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday.
Just four days ago the Spaniard, who turned 35 on Saturday, had made it a treble of wins at Fleche-Wallonne and he did it again in the third Ardennes Classic race within a week.
Last Sunday, Valverde had been pipped only by world champion Michal Kwiatkowski in the sprint finish at Amstel Gold but, that apart, he proved imperious in the Ardennes.
At the end of the 253km La Doyenne (the oldest) race, Valverde first chased down compatriot Dani Moreno on the uphill finish in Ans before then holding off all challengers in the final sprint.
Young Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe took second, just as he had on Wednesday, with another veteran Spaniard in Joaquim Rodriguez taking third as he was unable to use Katusha teammate Moreno’s break as a springboard for victory.
Having already done a Fleche-Liege double in 2006, Valverde continued his remarkable run of success in the Ardennes which has seen him claim another seven podium finishes, although he has never won Amstel Gold, where he was also second in 2013.
The race really came to life in a wet and miserable finish as a three-man breakaway group of Roman Kreuziger, Gianpaolo Caruso and Jakob Fuglsang threatened to get away to fight for the win.
But a 12-15 man group formed at the foot of the final climb to the finish and when Moreno attacked, no-one seemed to want to chase him, with Rodriguez marking Valverde’s wheel.
Eventually Valverde had to go for it and he proved strong enough not only to chase down Moreno, but also kick on in the sprint finish.
– massive crash –
An eight man breakaway had formed from just before the 40km mark, but although they built up a lead of almost eight minutes they were brought back at the start of the 3.6km Cote de Haute-Levee, around 75km from the finish.
A new five-man break with Astana pair Michele Scarponi and Tanel Kangert amongst them formed just off the front of the peloton as the hostilities kicked into gear.
Astana had promised they would push the pace to give Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali the best possible chance to win and they were true to their word.
Scarponi and Tangert quickly dropped two of their companions with only Colombian Johan Chaves holding on.
Inside the final 50km the peloton was stretched out with riders dropping off the back on every one of the 10 categorised climbs.
A massive crash just over 40km from the finish took out a host of riders including the last two winners in Liege, Australian Simon Gerrans and Ireland’s Dan Martin, although the worst affected were Irishman Nicolas Roche, Martin’s cousin, and Yukiya Arashiro of Japan, who both remained on the ground for some time.
Crucially that crash came just before the Cote de la Redoute, one of the key climbs of the race at 35km from the finish.
Tangert had been dropped on the Redoute but Scarponi and Chaves resisted until 23km from home.
Kreuziger attacked at the top of the Roche-aux-Faucon climb with 20km left but Caruso tracked him.
Behind, the counter attacks came thick and fast, notably from Denmark’s Fuglsang, another Astana rider.
He joined the front two but the trio were caught on the final categorised climb around 6km from home, the Saint-Nicolas.
Crucially, Kwiatkowski as well as Belgian favourite Philippe Gilbert were dropped on that climb as the final group of about a dozen potential winners revealed itself.
From there, Valverde was in total control and earned yet another deserved win.
Results from the 101st edition of the 253km Liege-Bastogne-Liege one-day classic on Sunday:
1. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 6hr 14min 20sec, 2. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA/ETI) same time, 3. Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) s.t., 4. Rui Costa (POR/LAM) s.t., 5. Roman Kreuziger (CZE/TIN) s.t., 6. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) s.t., 7. Sergio Henao (COL/SKY) s.t., 8. Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA/ALM) s.t., 9. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/AST) s.t., 10. Daniel Moreno (ESP/KAT) s.t.
– Agence France-Presse