By Fred Dreier
Andy Schleck timed his attack to perfection on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, the penultimate climb of Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and rode on alone to victory in the 95th edition of La Doyenne.
The 23-year-old Luxembourger chased down and dropped a surging Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto) and then held off a chase group full of favorites to win the 265km finale to the spring classics season. Spaniard Joaquím Rodriguez (Caisse d’Epargne) crossed for second at 1:12 and Davide Rebellin (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni) won the bunch sprint for third to make his fourth career podium appearance here.
“I knew it with five kilometers remaining that I had won,” Andy Schleck told VeloNews. “I had over one minute and I figured that would be no problem. There is one climb to go (Côte de Saint-Nicolas), but after 260 kilometers they should all have tired legs.”
The victory is the biggest single-day win for Andy Schleck, a former national time-trial champion who last year claimed the white jersey awarded to the best young rider at the Tour de France. It also salvaged a less-than stellar classics campaign for Saxo Bank, which was shut out at the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Flèche Wallonne. Matt Goss took third at Gent-Wevelgem and Karsten Kroon second at the Amstel Gold Race, but close calls are below par for the squad many consider the world’s best all-around cycling team.
Saxo boss Bjarne Riis applauded his young rider, calling the victory “beautiful” and “perfect.”
“It is a nice way to end (the classics),” he added.
A star-studded field
La Doyenne kicked off promptly at 10 a.m. under cloudy skies in front of the Place Saint Lambert in downtown Liège, an industrial and historic center on the Meuse river. The peloton boasted a wealth of talent — 2008 champ Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne), Giro del Trentino winner Ivan Basso (Liquigas), Flèche Wallonne victor Rebellin and two-time Tour de France runner up Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto).
Andy Schleck toed the line alongside his brother Fränk, who was cleared to ride earlier in the week after suffering a concussion in a pileup at last week’s Amstel Gold.
But unlike Amstel, which saw a breakaway escape the peloton early, Liège had to wait nearly two hours for a suitable group to gain an advantage. Marcel Wyss (Cervélo TestTeam) and Cyril Gautier (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) initiated a move on the gradual Côte de Ny, then sped away with Nico Sijmens (Cofidis). Hubert DuPont (Ag2r) joined them, and the foursome built an 11-minute advantage.
The undulating 265km course traces a direct route to Bastogne, then threads over the punchy climbs of the Ardennes on the journey back to Ans, a suburb of Liège. The route takes in a number of memorials to cycling (such as the one for 1955 champ Stan Ockers) and to World War II (the Ardennes region was the stage for the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-45).
The newest monument on course sat at kilometer 151 in Bastogne, which erected a roundabout in its city center featuring four cycling statues pedaling around a circle emblazoned with the words “La Doyenne” and the official Liège-Bastogne-Liège insignia.
Saxo takes control
The breakaway was still building its advantage as the four rode past the memorial, but the clock would soon begin running backward. Saxo riders Jakob Fuglsang and Gustav Larsson took the front to ride tempo alongside Barloworld, and the chase quickly brought the margin down to a more manageable six minutes.
“It was a pretty good day for me. I was told to set a hard tempo after 180 kilometers and I think I succeeded,” said Fuglsang, the former world U23 cross-country mountain bike champion.
Saxo next sent Chris Anker Sørensen on an attack with Dries Devenyns (Quick Step) and German hope Linus Gerdemann (Milram). The surge slashed the gap to the breakaway group just as the riders were coming to the base of the hellacious Côte de la Redoute, where the biggest split of the race often occurs.
The slog up Redoute saw the initial breakaway neutralized and another group take its chances off the front. Saxo once again led the charge, putting Alexandr Kolobnev and Karsten Kroon in the group, which also contained Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas), Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Colombian Jose Serpa (Diquigiovanni).
So many Saxo Bank riders on the attack dictated a response from the peloton, and it came from Silence-Lotto’s rising star Philippe Gilbert, who so far had been active but unlucky in the Ardennes races. Gilbert sped past the breakaway with ease and jumped into the lead.
On the fall from Redoute Gilbert had a gap nearly 30 seconds over a disorganized chase group. But two climbs remained, and on the next ascent, the Roche aux Faucons, Schleck made his move.
The winning move
“We planned (the attack) because we had Karsten and Kolobnev out there,” Riis said. “I said, ‘OK, Andy, be ready.’ I wanted Andy and Fränk to attack. Andy attacked and he was gone. It was amazing. He is very strong.”
The younger Schleck shot out of the group on the climb, caught Kroon and Kolobnev, and continued on toward Gilbert. Gilbert nursed an 11-second lead over the top of the climb, but the Saxo Bank rider soon caught his man.
“It was fantastic teamwork. Nicki Sørenson led me into the downhill and put everyone in the red before I attacked,” Andy Schleck said. “I attacked and saw Karsten. He looked at me and just said, ‘Go for it.’”
On the fall from the Faucons, Andy Schleck attacked and dropped Gilbert. As the chase group fiddled, the Saxo Bank rider burned, extending his advantage from 20 seconds to more than a minute by the day’s final climb, the Côte de Saint-Nicholas.
Evans made a bid to escape on the Saint-Nicholas, but Rebellin, Fränk Schleck and Damiano Cunego (Lampre) all marked him.
“No one was riding, which is uncharacteristic for this race. I tried to do it myself, but my back was cramping,” said a dejected Evans at the finish line. “It was a bizarre race. Unlike any Liège I’ve ever seen.”
Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was next to have a go, followed by Rodriguez. But they were all racing for second.
With his rivals a minute in arrears, Andy Schleck had enough time to prepare for the photographers at the finish line, zipping up his jersey and throwing his hands in the air.
The younger Schleck clearly has become a rider to watch in the one-day races. Last year he was fourth here, and just four days ago he finished second at Flèche Wallonne. And don’t expect him to quit while he’s ahead.
“I think there is nothing impossible at this point,” he said. “I will try next year for Amstel. I even think I could go for a race like the Tour of Flanders. Why not?”
Seven races, seven different winners — that’s the tally as the spring classics season comes to a close. Columbia-Highroad doubled up with Mark Cavendish (Milan-San Remo) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Ghent-Wevelgem), as did Quick Step with Tom Boonen (Paris-Roubaix) and Stijn Devolder (Tour of Flanders). Here are your winners:
Milan-San Remo, March 21: Mark Cavendish (GB), Columbia-Highroad
Tour of Flanders, April 5: Stijn Devolder (B), Quick Step
Ghent-Wevelgem, April 8: Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor), Columbia-Highroad
Paris-Roubaix, April 12: Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step
Amstel Gold Race, April 19: Sergei Ivanov (Rus), Katusha
Flèche Wallonne, April 22: Davide Rebellin (I), Diquigiovanni
Liège-Bastogne-Liège, April 26: Andy Schleck (Lux), Saxo Bank —Agence France Presse contributed to this report.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège: top 10
1. Andy Schleck, Team Saxo Bank, 261km in 6:34:32
2. Joaquim Rodriguez, Caisse d’Epargne, at 1:17
3. Davide Rebellin, Serramenti Diquigiovanni, at 1:24
4. Philippe Gilbert, Silence-Lotto, same time
5. Serguei Ivanov, Team Katusha, s.t.
6. Simon Gerrans, Cervelo Test Team, s.t.
7. Damiano Cunego, Lampre-N.G.C., s.t.
8. Benoît Vaugrenard, Française des Jeux, s.t.
9. Alexandr Kolobnev, Team Saxo Bank, s.t.
10. Samuel Sanchez, Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
1. Andy Schleck, Team Saxo Bank, 261km in 6:34:32 (39.692 km/h)
2. Joaquim Rodriguez, Caisse d’Epargne, at 1:17
3. Davide Rebellin, Serramenti Diquigiovanni, at 1:24
4. Philippe Gilbert, Silence-Lotto, at 1:24
5. Serguei Ivanov, Team Katusha, at 1:24
6. Simon Gerrans, Cervélo TestTeam, at 1:24
7. Damiano Cunego, Lampre-N.G.C., at 1:24
8. Benoît Vaugrenard, Française des Jeux, at 1:24
9. Alexandr Kolobnev, Team Saxo Bank, at 1:24
10. Samuel Sanchez, Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:24
11. Ryder Hesjedal, Garmin-Slipstream, at 1:24
12. Matteo Carrara, Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team, at 1:24
13. Jérôme Pineau, Quick Step, at 1:24
14. Oscar Freire, Rabobank, at 1:24
15. Rinaldo Nocentini, Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 1:24
16. Cadel Evans, Silence-Lotto, at 1:24
17. Thomas Dekker, Silence-Lotto, at 1:24
18. Rémy Di Gregorio, Française des Jeux, at 1:24
19. Alejandro Valverde, Caisse d’Epargne, at 1:24
20. Vladimir Efimkin, Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 1:24
21. David Lelay, Agritubel, at 1:24
22. Maxim Iglinskiy, Astana, at 1:24
23. Frank Schleck, Team Saxo Bank, at 1:24
24. Christophe Moreau, Agritubel, at 1:24
25. Jelle Vanendert, Silence-Lotto, at 1:24
26. Nicki Sorensen, Team Saxo Bank, at 1:24
27. David Moncoutie, Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne, at 1:24
28. Carlos Sastre, Cervélo TestTeam, at 1:24
29. Fabian Wegmann, Team Milram, at 1:24
30. Luca Mazzanti, Team Katusha, at 1:24
31. Gorka Verdugo, Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:24
32. Paul Martens, Rabobank, at 1:24
33. Chris Sorensen, Team Saxo Bank, at 1:24
34. Michele Scarponi, Serramenti Diquigiovanni, at 1:24
35. Maxime Monfort, Team Columbia-High Road, at 1:24
36. Pierrick Fedrigo, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, at 1:24
37. Karsten Kroon, Team Saxo Bank, at 1:24
38. Kanstantsin Sivtsov, Team Columbia-High Road, at 1:35
39. Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas, at 1:35
40. Amaël Moinard, Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne, at 1:38
41. Carlos Barredo, Quick Step, at 1:43
42. José Serpa, Serramenti Diquigiovanni, at 2:09
43. Ivan Basso, Liquigas, at 2:24
44. Philip Deignan, Cervélo TestTeam, at 2:54
45. Christopher Froome, Barloworld, at 2:54
46. Roman Kreuziger, Liquigas, at 2:54
47. Franco Pellizotti, Liquigas, at 2:54
48. Thomas Voeckler, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, at 2:54
49. Sergey Lagutin, Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team, at 2:54
50. Robert Gesink, Rabobank, at 2:54
51. Johnny Hoogerland, Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team, at 2:54
52. Broeck Jurgen, Van Den Silence-Lotto, at 2:54
53. Thomas Lövkvist, Team Columbia-High Road, at 2:54
54. Alexandr Dyachenko, Astana, at 2:54
55. Christian Pfannberger, Team Katusha, at 2:54
56. Enrico Gasparotto, Lampre-N.G.C., at 2:57
57. Clément Lhotellerie, Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team, at 3:06
58. Christian Knees, Team Milram, at 3:19
59. Peter Velits, Team Milram, at 3:20
60. Jan Bakelants, Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator, at 3:20
61. Inaki Isasi, Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 3:20
62. Alexander Efimkin, Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 3:26
63. Leonardo Duque, Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne, at 3:48
64. Assan Bazayev, Astana, at 5:37
65. Michael Albasini, Team Columbia-High Road, at 6:06
66. Manuele Mori, Lampre-N.G.C., at 6:25
67. Rubens Bertogliati, Serramenti Diquigiovanni, at 6:25
68. Cyril Gautier, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, at 6:25
69. John-Lee Augustyn, Barloworld, at 6:25
70. Haimar Zubeldia, Astana, at 6:25
71. Pierre Rolland, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, at 6:25
72. Egoi Martinez, Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 6:25
73. Addy Engels, Quick Step, at 6:25
74. Tom Danielson, Garmin-Slipstream, at 8:01
75. Nicolas Vogondy, Agritubel, at 8:01
76. Paolo Tiralongo, Lampre-N.G.C., at 8:01
77. Jonathan Hivert, Skil-Shimano, at 9:05
78. Hubert Dupont, Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 10:37
79. Marcel Wyss, Cervélo TestTeam, at 11:05
80. Françis De Greef, Silence-Lotto, at 11:05
81. Christophe Kern, Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne, at 11:05
82. Guillaume Levarlet, Française des Jeux, at 11:05
83. Christophe Brandt, Silence-Lotto, at 11:05
84. Craig Lewis, Team Columbia-High Road, at 11:05
85. Jakob Fuglsang, Team Saxo Bank, at 11:05
86. Dries Devenyns, Quick Step, at 11:05
87. Jose Luis Arrieta, Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 11:05
88. Linus Gerdemann, Team Milram, at 11:05
89. Sylvain Calzati, Agritubel, at 11:05
90. Oscar Pereiro Sio, Caisse d’Epargne, at 11:05
91. Ruben Perez, Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 11:05
92. Valerio Agnoli, Liquigas, at 11:05
93. Luis Pasamontes, Caisse d’Epargne, at 11:05
94. Inigo Landaluze, Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 11:05
95. Bram Tankink, Rabobank, at 11:05
96. Bert De Waele, Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, at 11:05
97. Nikita Eskov, Team Katusha, at 11:05
98. Pavel Brutt, Team Katusha, at 11:05
99. Daniel Martin, Garmin-Slipstream, at 11:05
100. Nicolas Roche, Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 11:05
101. Francesco Bellott,i Barloworld, at 11:05
102. Paolo Longo Borghini, Barloworld, at 11:05
103. Rigoberto Uran, Caisse d’Epargne, at 11:05
104. Volodymir Gustov, Cervélo TestTeam, at 11:05
105. Alexandre Botcharov, Team Katusha, at 11:05
106. Kevin Hulsmans, Quick Step, at 11:05
107. Nico Sijmens, Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne, at 11:05
108. Yukiya Arashiro, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, at 14:20
109. Simon Geschke, Skil-Shimano, at 14:21
110. Marco Marcato, Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team, at 14:21
111. Xavier Florencio, Cervélo TestTeam, at 15:26
112. Alberto Losada, Alguacil Caisse d’Epargne, at 15:26
113. Pieter Jacobs, Silence-Lotto, at 15:26
114. Vasil Kiryienka, Caisse d’Epargne, at 15:26
115. Sergei Klimov, Team Katusha, at 16:29
116. Johannes Fröhlinger, Team Milram, at 16:29
117. Bert Scheirlinckx, Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, at 16:29
118. Jérémy Roy, Française des Jeux, at 16:29
119. Daniele Righi, Lampre-N.G.C., at 16:29