Alejandro Valverde of Movistar sprinted his way into elite company when his final surge earned him a third victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Valverde survived with a fractured peloton, navigated slippery conditions in the stormy final kilometers, and accelerated out ahead of nine of his closest rivals, despite the fact that all of them were watching him closely. Etixx-Quick Step's Julian Alaphilippe took second for the second day this week with Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez rounding out the podium.
The race enjoyed and/or suffered through a number of late changes, with a massive crash bringing down much of the peloton just prior to La Côte de la Redoute that eliminated defending winner Simon Gerrans of Orica-GreenEdge and Irish hopes Dan Martin (Cannondale) and Nicholas Roche (Sky). From there, a three-man attack formed on the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons consisting of Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha), Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) and eventually Jakob Fuglsang (Astana, who celebrated their liberty by being on attack all day). The trio stayed away until the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, the race's final event, where they were absorbed by the remaining challengers, who narrowed themselves down to ten as the rest of the formerly moderately-sized peloton melted away.
Daniel Moreno of Katusha opened up the hostilities on the climb to the line in Ans, and briefly opened up a gap before Valverde took up the task of bringing him back. The plan was in motion for Rodriguez to stick with Valverde and hopefully make him work hard enough to reduce his sprint advantage. But in the end Valverde had more than enough left in the tank to finish the job.
Valverde, coming off a win in La Flèche Wallonne Wednesday, became the fourth rider in history to notch a trio of victories in the oldest of the great cycling classics, as well as the second-winningest foreigner behind Italian Moreno Argentin (Eddy Merckx holds the record of five wins). Valverde also joins only six others to win the two Belgian Ardennes races, and he nearly made even more elite company -- with Philippe Gilbert and Davide Rebellin -- when he finished a close second in last Sunday's Amstel Gold Race.
Valverde is earning himself a place in Classics history with his win today. The Spaniard has overcome a checkered past and a year away on suspension to regain his place as the era's dominant winner in these events. His three wins in La Flèche place him in the very top bracket, and at age 35 the Movistar captain will have every chance to break the record next year. He may never regain the trust of skeptical cycling fans, understandably enough, but is nevertheless an undeniably great racer. When the peloton arrived inside the final kilometer, all eyes were on him, and everyone had their own idea of how to beat Valverde first and foremost -- yet nobody could finish the task, either today or earlier this week. His success may not make Valverde a favorite for a grand tour result, but the Green Bullet will be a rider to watch in the uphill stages of the Tour de France and Vuelta a España later this year. Results:
- Alejandro Valverde, Movistar
- Julian Alaphilippe, Etixx-Quick Step, s.t.
- Joaquim Rodriguez, Katusha, s.t.
- Rui Costa, Lampre, s.t.
- Roman Kreuziger, Tinkoff-Saxo, s.t.
- Romain Bardet, AG2R, s.t.
- Sergio Henao, Sky, s.t.
- Domenico Pozzovivo, AG2R, s.t.
- Jakob Fuglsang, Astana, s.t.
- Daniel Moreno, Katusha, s.t.