After triumphing last Wednesday on the Fleche Wallonne and a week ago on Dutch soil on the Amstel Gold Race, Belgian Philippe Gilbert entered the history books by claiming his home race, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Omega Pharma Lotto team leader managed to cope with the pressure from his rivals and captured the win after outsprinting the Schleck brothers to the line.
199 riders at the start, 25 teams
3 and then 10
After several attempts straight from the start, three riders managed to break away from the pack at km 3: Sebastien Delfosse (LAN) taking with him David Le Lay (ALM) and Fredrik Kessiakoff (AST). The front men were eventually caught by 6 other riders at km13: Eduard Vorganov (KAT), Jesus Herrada (MOV), Tony Gallopin (COF), Mickael Delage (FDJ), Yannick Talabardon (SAU) and Thomas De Gendt (VCD) who was already part of the early breakaway on last year’s edition. Twenty-two kilometres later, Mathias Frank (BMC), taking off on a counter-attack, managed to join the front group.
De Gendt again
The front men reached the top of the first hill, the Côte de Saint-Roch with a 3’20 lead over the pack and as expected, last years best climber, De Gendt captured the most hill points ahead of Delfosse and Gallopin.
As the front men reached Bastogne and started heading back north to Liège, the pack led by the Omega Pharma Lotto team had set a good enough tempo to keep the escapees in control. The gap however reached a maximum 4’ gap at km 150.
It was however team Leopard-Trek that really picked up the pace as the leaders moved closer to the series of difficulties just after the Côte de Wanne. Several attacks then occurred in the following two hills, Stockeu and Haute-Levée. Eventually a group of counter-attackers managed to break away from the pack including Siutsou (THR), Van Avermaet (BMC), Ten Dam (RAB), Gasparotto (AST), Pineau (QST), Garate (RAB), Cataldo (QST) Caruso (LIQ) and Kadri (ALM) who were to catch up and drop Delage (FDJ) and Talabardon (SAU).
In the lead Thomas De Gendt carried on collecting climbers’ points as five riders remained in the lead at the top of the Côte du Rosier.
Just before the climb up the Col du Maquisard, the front group was caught by the first chasing group. 13 men gathered together enjoying a 1’ lead and more over the pack, led by both by Leopard-Trek and Omega Pharma Lotto.
In the climb up the legendary Cote de la Redoute, just a few kilometres away from Philippe Gilbert’s native town, Remouchamps, the pace carried up increasing as Jakob Fuglsang (LEO) took command of the pack, yet no real attack occurred. Up front, several men struggled to keep up with the breakaway group. Indeed, seven men carried on their courageous adventure: Van Avermaet (BMC), Gasparotto (AST), Siutsov (THR), Garate, Ten Dam (RAB), Pineau (QST) and Kadri (ALM).
The action really started in the climb up the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons. While Gaparotto took off in front taking with him Van Avermaet, Andy Schleck (LEO) made his move, only to be followed by his brother Frank and race favourite Philippe Gilbert. The three eventually caught up with the front men. With 16kms to go, Gasparotto failed to keep up with his companions.
Four men therefore took on the final climb of the day, the Côte de St-Nicolas: two Belgians, Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert and two Luxemburg riders Andy and Frank Schleck.
Gilbert takes the initiative
While one of the Schleck brothers was expected to attack in the final hill, the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, Philippe Gilbert tried his luck on two occasions. His first move saw Van Avermaet drop behind, his second attempt hurt Andy Schleck but the youngest of the Schleck brothers eventually managed to return to the front.
Three men finally showed up for the final sprint. Taking off with 300m to go, Philippe Gilbert flew to the line capturing his first ever success on Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Belgian beat Franck and Andy Schleck to enter the history books as the first rider to win the Fleche Brabançonne, Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège races in a row.
Can you take us through your dream day?
It’s a great day for me. Liège-Bastogne-Liège was my dream race.
I did have a slight doubt on the climb up the Côte de la Haute-Levée when my team wasn’t present and I was isolated. The others saw that and attacked. Luckily the Leopard-Trek riders helped us out and we managed to close the gap. Then when the Schleck brothers attacked, I thought about the moment when Andy and I attacked two years ago, thinking that again it might be too soon. But all the others were struggling. I followed them and did my part of the work.
It was a bit of a tricky situation being with the Schleck brothers. There more than simple team mates when they’re together. I wanted to try my luck in St Nicolas because I knew that the 2 or 3 kilometres after the hill were places where they could attack me. It was a man to man battle. After my second attack, Andy was in trouble and he had to fight to come back and I knew I would then have the advantage on the final straight because of the face wind.
What are your objectives now and aren’t you worried about waking up tomorrow after winning your dream race?
I have so many other things to do in cycling. The World championships is another dream of mine and the courses for 2012 and 2013 should suit me. I also dream of wearing the Yellow Jersey on the Tour de France. I was so close to doing so a few years ago. I did like to wear it on this year’s Tour. And it’s great to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège but I would love to win it again.
What about trying your luck on Paris-Roubaix?
Paris-Roubaix is tempting but also so dangerous. The list of riders who have suffered serious injuries there is long. I’m not yet ready to take those risks. Paris-Roubaix is a race were you maybe need more experience than physical qualities. I still have time and quite a few years ahead of me to focus later on Paris-Roubaix.
How did your prepare to be at your best for such a difficult week?
I knew I would be living 10 difficult days with the pressure and the physical efforts. I knew I was mentally ready and had worked for months and months to be in shape. I had finished 3rd of Milan-San Remo and 9th of the Ronde but knew I should have done a lot better. I really asked my team and the staff to protect me for this difficult week. We organised press conference of course but I just wanted to stay quiet and calm at the hotel, focused on myself and on the team. We wanted to create a team atmosphere.
1. Gilbert (OLO)
2. F. Schleck (LEO)
3. A. Schleck (LEO)
4. Kreuziger (AST)
5. Uran (SKY)
As three men showed up on the final straight, Philippe Gilbert managed to beat Frank and Andy Schleck to the line. The Belgian captures the third Ardennes Classic of the week after triumphing on the AMstel Gold Race and Fleche Wallonne.
Philippe Gilbert again gives it a go. Impressive. Andy Schleck can no longer follow. Frank Schleck is still in contention. Two men lead the way: Gilbert and F. Schleck.
Philippe Gilbert attacks. The Schleck brothers hang on to his wheel. Van Avermaet is dropped.
The leading four are heading up the Côte de St-Nicolas (1.2km, 8.3%). The gap over the chasing pack led by Rodriguez (KAT): 35".