ANS, Belgium (AFP) — Wouter Poels said winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège was a “dream come true” almost four years after a crash almost ended his career.
The 28-year-old Dutchman suffered a ruptured spleen and kidney, three broken ribs and bruised lungs in a crash on stage 6 of the 2012 Tour de France. At that time, he was racing for Vacansoleil.
“Some doctors were saying it would be better to stop riding a bike, so now to win Liège is really amazing, like a dream come true,” said the Team Sky rider.
More known as a specialist climber whose previous best results came at stage races of up to one week, including stage 4 at last year’s Tirreno-Adriatico, Poels hopes this win will help him take the step up to grand tour leader for his team.
“I hope I can go next year maybe in a grand tour for my own chances,” said Poels, who will be one of Chris Froome’s chief lieutenants at July’s Tour de France. “I don’t know if it will be the Tour — Chris is outstanding in that. I also have to show I can do that, I hope with this victory I can speed up [the process to becoming a grand tour leader] a little bit — we’ll see.”
Poels had come fourth in Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne, already his best ever result in a one-day classic, and before the race Froome —who came home 112th, more than 10 minutes back — had said he would be riding for Poels and Polish teammate Michal Kwiatkowski.
When the race got to the business end after more than six hours of riding through cold, snow, rain and hail, Poels showed great maturity and strength in riding at the front, ensuring he could react when Michael Albasini launched his attack on the rue Naniot in the final 3km.
Only Poels, Rui Costa and Samuel Sanchez managed to follow it. In the sprint finish, Sanchez had no strength left, Costa faded and Albasini didn’t have the kick to overtake Poels who had struck out for home first.
“You always hope for a really nice victory, you dream about it but that you can win it now on a day like this is really amazing, it’s a really special feeling,” said Poels.
“So I’ll enjoy it!” He added, “when I passed the finish line I really couldn’t believe it. It’s an amazing feeling, an amazing victory, the highlight of my career!”
Switzerland’s Albasini revealed he’d initially expected to be riding to help Australian teammate Simon Gerrans, the 2014 winner in Liège. “At the end I was still there, and he wasn’t feeling good so it was up to me to make the race,” said the 35-year-old. “I tried to stay with the leading positions to cover any attacks.
“On the cobbles I knew I was going to just ride at my own tempo. Sometimes it’s easier to just follow your own tempo [than that of others]. I was surprised that I was the strongest, although in the end I think I was one of the strongest and not the strongest because the strongest won!”
“It’s unbelievable,” Poels added. “I’m really happy and I still can’t believe I won Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It’s a really nice victory that’s for sure!”