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Poels Shocks Favorites with Liege-Bastogne-Liege Win

Dirk Waem Getty

Sky's Wout Poels shocked the cycling establishment with a late surge to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the first Dutch winner in 28 years. Poels emerged from a four-rider group that gained a small lead over the heads of state on the Rue Naniot with 3km to go, and took the sprint from a strong-looking Michael Albasini of Orica-GreenEdge and Rui Costa of Lampre. Poels had probed the quartet with an acceleration on the final climb in Ans, and while he didn't go clear, he put the group (which included Samuel Sanchez of BMC) back on its heels, and he finished off the sprint by a bike length over Albasini.

Plummetting temperatures and dustings of snow forced the race organizers to reroute the peloton on its way out to Bastogne, and the race shrunk by five km in distance. Riders spent most of the day in their full jackets, making rider identification difficult, though Movistar were plenty conspicuous leading the peloton all day. The peloton trailed a group of riders including Cesare Benedetti, Jérémy Roy, Nicholas Edet, Pavel Brutt, Alessandro De Marchi, Paolo Tiralongo and Thomas De Gendt, with Vegard Laengen joining them eventually. Some 100 riders were estimated to have abandoned by the 160km mark.

Through rain, snow, sleet or whatever else was happening, the Movistar domestiques delivered like a US mail fable, steadily chipping away at the break while pacing what was left of the peloton. Direct Energie's Thomas Voeckler was the lone rider to strike out from the peloton, defying Movstar's authority, but to no great effect. Voeckler gained 20 seconds from the Col du Rosier to the Col du Maquisard, with Movistar's minions ever looming. On the Maquisard a quartet of Tosh Van Der Sande, Loic Vliegen, Pawel Poljanski and Bjorn Thurau surged ahead, while the break splintered itself down to De Gendt, Laengen, De Marchi and Edet.

The Cote de la Redoute saw little action except reality setting in on Voeckler and several of the early break riders, with only Edet and De Marchi surviving, and De Gendt not quite reeled in yet. Snow began falling again on the Movistar-led peloton, so at least we had lovely pictures if not engaging racing with 35km remaining. The duo held their position on the front until the Côte de Roche-aux-Faucons, where hints of the real action occurred. Carlos Betancur launched Movistar's first move from the top of the Roche-aux-Faucons with Etixx-Quick Step and Sky hot on his trail and Astana keeping a close watch.

On the Côte de Saint-Nicolas Betancur again opened the action, but went nowhere as the heads of stage moved up, led by Simon Gerrans. Romain Bardet tried to move clear, to no effect, but Ilnur Zakarin and Diego Rosa got a few meters as the final 5km began. At 4km it was Diego Ulissi's turn to try something, but it was still 30 riders together on the Rue de Naniot, the cobbled climb newly inserted into the race. There, Albasini tried his hand, with Costa and Sanchez on his wheel, followed by Poels, as the peloton began to fall apart. Favorite Alejandro Valverde, seeking his fourth victory, was by then in the chasing group with ten riders glued to his wheel, and remained marked out of contention as the surprising group of four got fully clear. Ilnur Zakarin took fifth from the group.

For Poels, the win is a Dutch first since Adri van der Poel in 1988. For his team, it's a first Monument, after years of dominating the Tour de France and making headway in some of the other spring Classics. Poels won a stage of the Volta a Catalunya a month ago and dominated the Vuelta al Communitat Valenciana in February, so this win adds to an already successful season. But nothing in the Dutchman's history can measure up to what he accomplished today.