Etixx – Quick-Step concludes the Classics with strong ride in Dantesque Liège-Bastogne- Liège
The horrendous weather conditions left their mark on the 102nd edition of the Belgian Monument.
Dark sky, cold temperatures, heavy snow, sleet, rain jackets, leg and arm warmers for the riders, these were the "ingredients" of the Spring's final classic, Liège-Bastogne- Liège. The harsh conditions meant that not too many riders were willing to have a go and book a place in the breakaway once the race began; eventually, Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18), Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff), Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Jeremy Roy (FDJ), Vegard Stake Laengen (IAM Cycling) and Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) took off and built a gap of 9 minutes, before Etixx – Quick-Step and Movistar began controlling the affairs.
Because of the snow and the severe conditions, the organizers decided to alter the course, so between kilometer 35 and kilometer 75, the peloton went on another route, heading south, before returning on the planned route just before the first categorized climb, Côte de La Roche-en Ardenne. Once the race hit the steep and arduous hills, the advantage of the escapees began to drop, but in the same time many riders called it a day, some because of crashes and some due to the bad weather.
On Côte de Rosier, the longest ascent of the day, Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) attacked, but it was to no avail, and they were soon caught. At the front, the escapees' group began to disintegrate, only De Gendt and De Marchi managing to stay in the lead, but their adventure came to an end after Côte de la Redoute (2 kilometers, 8.9% average gradient), where the peloton rode full gas, despite the hail and the strong wind.
Etixx – Quick-Step took command of the pack with four men and not only that it reeled in the breakaway, but it also neutralized all the attacks which came inside the final 20 kilometers, when Carlos Betancur (Movistar), Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) tried their chance. On Côte de Saint-Nicolas everyone rode together, waiting for the last climb, Côte de la Rue Naniot, a new addition to the oldest Monument of the calendar. 23-year-old Julian Alaphilippe was the first to hit the cobbled slopes of this 600-m long hill and his strong stretched what was left of the peloton.
Before the top of this last categorized climb, four riders broke clear and got a small gap on the main group: Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Wout Poels (Team Sky) and Samuel Sanchez (BMC). Taking advantage of the fact that the chasers failed to work together, they entered in the final kilometer and fought for the win in a reduced sprint, which saw Poels record his maiden victory in a Monument, a bike length ahead of Albasini, while Rui Costa rounded out the podium.
All the riders in Liège-Bastogne-Liège endured a real ordeal on Sunday, and it wasn't any different for Julian Alaphilippe. Despite not getting the result for which he came for and finishing only 22nd, the Frenchman wasn't sad in Ans and insisted to look on the bright side of things: "I am happy for completing the race. It was terrible today: snow, hail, rain, you name it, we had it all. I gave everything and finished the race empty on the inside.”
The team showed again how united it is and rode really strong. Unfortunately, I couldn't finish the job, but I have no regrets. For sure, it's a race that I will never forget.
"Honestly, I wouldn't change anything I did today. I just missed some power in the legs at the finish, as the cold took its toll on me. It was important to keep believing you'll feature in the final, which I did, but in the end this wasn't enough, as all of the sudden my legs stopped working and I had no more power left, so I got dropped", said Dan Martin, the 2013 winner, at the end of a sodden day which reminded many of the 1980 edition of Liège-Bastogne- Liège.
Also Etixx – Quick-Step CEO, Patrick Lefevere, shared his thoughts on the weather-affected race which drew the curtain on the Spring Classics: "We can't be disappointed, because the guys gave everything. We came here with a young team and until the end they were protagonists. Of course, the real protagonist today was the weather, and the riders paid for every little effort they made in such fierce conditions. Unfortunately, Dan suffered because of the cold, but he did a great race on Wednesday, at Flèche Wallonne, just as Alaphilippe, who has a bright future ahead of him. Congratulations to every rider who finished the race!"
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele