…has an Irishman been on the podium, let alone the top step, of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, until today. Dan Martin, the 26-year-old Irishman from the Garmin Sharp cycling team won Liege, being the beneficiary of an aggressive final 20kms of riding by Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal. The 1-2 Garmin punch disrupted the race control of Astana, BMC and Sky and left Martin fresh to follow a strong attack by Joaquim Rodriguez while the other 5 riders in the final selection could only watch as Martin powered away to the win.
Although this edition of Liege had the expected breakaway up the road, there was little significant action to note, as the big teams were noteably absent from the break. Normally, having a rider up the road in the break at Liege is a point of leverage, but this year, all but perhaps AG2R were saving their legs and the break consisted primarily of pro-conti teams.
The Cote de Stockeu, once the first boot in the stomping Merckx would hand out, was where we saw TJ Slagter try a doomed attack followed by Saxo Bank start to turn up the pace and thin the peloton as the chase of the break was on. The break had some strong riders including Jerome (EUR), Lang (IAM) and DeClerq (LTB) but lacked any kind of elite break talent on such a difficult course to last even to the final 30km. The gap, which at one point was 14 minutes, had tumbled to 4 by the Rosier with over 60km to go. Saxo Bank was hammering hard with Chris Anker Sorenson dishing out the hurt.
As the peloton approached the Cote de la Redoute the pace was high and the teams nervous. With 40km to go, the Redoute marks a critical point, or the critical point of the race. Movistar lost Amador in a crash in the action, and the break was within sight only 48 seconds up the road. Sky launched Lopez and then blocked the narrow road, but riders forced though. Fugslang (AST), Rui Costa (MOV) and Losada (KAT) joined Lopez as the big teams were moving their support into position. Then Cunego and Frank bridged across as the selection started to gain some firepower. Sky remained in control of the peloton seeming willing to block and thrust Lopez up the road.
For 2013, the penultimate climb was changed due to roadwork from the Roche aux Faucons to the Colonster and it was here that Alberto Contador stretched his legs being joined by Igor Anton, Greg Van Avermaet, Carlos Betancur, Rigoberto Uran and Ryder Hesjedal. The pace was really frantic and the teams explosive as riders looked to assert themselves on the race. At the same time, indecisiveness gripped each group as riders sensed aggression had yet to really transform into opportunity. That was, until Hesjedal upped the aggression and went for it alone from 18km to go as he and Uran were the only really working. It was Ryder against the rest as he time trialed toward the Saint Nicolas.
With 20 seconds on the chasers at the base of the Saint Nicolas it looked doomed for Hesjdal, but then he would dig a little deeper. As he approached the top of the climb Betancur went again and was closing fast. Then Gilbert attacked but couldn’t close the gap as Valverde passed him like he was riding a stationary bike. Purito and Scarponi joined in and Dan Martin as well as the winning move was made. BMC was left scrambling trying to chase for wheels to get Gilbert across, but the group of six riders were being towed to the line by a determined Hesjedal. Just outside the red kite, J-Rod launched while Scarponi chased. Dan Martin followed as Scarponi faltered and was joined by Valverde and Betancur who seemed to prefer a steady claw vs and explosive chase. Martin had bridged with Hesjedal off the back and the trio closing in. So Dan Martin kicked again. Rodriguez couldn’t hold his wheel as Martin won the classic with Valverde sprinting for the final podium step.
2013 Liege Bastogne Liege Top Twenty
1. Dan Martin (GRM)
2. Joaquim Rodriguez (KAT)__+3″
3. Alejandro Valverde (MOV)_+9″
4. Carlos Betancur (ALM)
5. Michele Scarponi (LAM)
6. Enrico Gasparotto (AST)__+18″
7. Philippe Gilbert (BMC)
8. Ryder Hesjedal (GRM)
9. Rui Costa (MOV)
10. Simon Gerrans (OGE)
11. Benoit Vaugrenard (FDJ)
12. Igor Anton (EUS)
13. Romain Bardet (ALM)
14. Rinaldo Nocentini (ALM)
15. Lars Peter Nordhaug (BLA)
16. Sergio Haneo (SKY)
17. Nicki Sorenson (STB)
18. Jelle Vanendert (LTB)
19. Simon Geschke (ARG)
20. Diego Ulissi (LAM)