Chris Horner (RadioShack) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) were close to the podium with solid performances in Sunday’s grueling Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Horner rode to his second-career top 10 with eighth at 1:07 back after riding in with the front chase group behind winner Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) and runner-up Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha).
Horner said steady headwinds neutralized the action until the decisive Roche aux Faucons climb.
“It was all headwind all day and it made the race real steady. There was chaos before the climbs, because everyone was resting to get ready for the climbs. I think it would come down to the Faucons climb and it would be survival to the end,” Horner said. “The team did a great job, but I didn’t have real fresh legs. After these hard stages, Amstel and Flèche, they just take something out of you when you’re not used to that style of racing. I think I was kind of flat.”
Hesjedal, meanwhile, said stomach problems kept him from his best in the decisive late-stages of the race. Hesjedal came in with a second chase group, crossing the line 13th at 1:18 back.
“I was fighting all day to be at the front because I wanted to have a shot, but I lost contact coming up Nicolas. There were a lot of attacks there and it was just so hard,” he said. “I think I rode well, I was where I needed to be. Once my stomach got bad, it was hard to keep it together. Once the stomach goes loose, it doesn’t feel good.”
Second at Amstel Gold Race last weekend, Hesjedal walks away from the Ardennes week with his head held high.
“I am really satisfied with how the classics went this year. I’ve 29 races days with today, and I’ve been in the top 10 on a lot of those days,” he said. “Now I will go back to Canada and then race the Tour of California. After a few weeks in North America, it’s back to Europe for the Tour de Suisse and then the Tour de France.”
Ted King (Cervélo), set to ride the Giro d’Italia next month for the second year in a row, helped two of his teammates finish in the top-30 and then finished 68th with a group at 9:34 back.
Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions), racing for the first time since the Volta a Catalunya in mid-March, also finished in the same group in 75th.
“I am coming off a period of not racing, so I am using Liège as a hard way to get the racing legs back,” Vande Velde said. “Now I will race Romandie and then the Giro to get ready for the Tour. I prefer to race than to train at home, so the Giro is perfect preparation for the Tour. I hope it turns out like it was in 2008 when I wore the pink jersey than it was last year when I busted a bunch of bones.”
Four young U.S. pros, who will be names to watch in future editions of Liège, all finished in a group at 12:27 back.
Brent Bookwalter (BMC) was 97th, rookie Peter Stetina (Garmin-Transitions) was 101st, Giro-bound Craig Lewis was 119th and Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia), hot off second place overall at the Tour of Turkey, was 122nd.
Matthew Busche (RadioShack) was also impressive to finish such a long distance in his Liège debut at 132nd at 16:04.