Twenty-four years after Sean Kelly, Dan Martin became the second Irishman to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège. This 99th edition of the oldest classic on the calendar was at the height of expectations and one team proved to be stronger and smarter than the others. Indeed after Garmin-Sharp's Ryder Hesjedal powered away in the last 20 kilometres, Dan Martin remained comfortably in the wheels of the race favourites. The Irishman finally made his move once his team mate had been caught. Catching up with Joaquim Rodriguez, the 26-year-old flew off in the last 300 metres of the course, capturing the biggest win of his career. Martin wins the Ardennes Classic ahead of two Spaniards, Rodriguez and Valverde.
Six in early breakaway
A great atmosphere and rather chilly conditions welcomed the 199 riders of Liège-Bastogne-Liège at the Place Saint-Lambert for the start of the 99th edition. Once the pack was off, it only took four kilometres for the first real breakaway to occur. The first man to attack, Bart De Clercq (LTB) was rapidly joined by five other men: Vincent Jerome (EUC), Jonathan Fumeaux, Pirmin Lang (both IAM), Frederik Veuchelen (VCD) and Sander Armee (TSV).
Katusha launches the chase
While the pack wasn't too concerned by the morning escapees, the gap reached a maximum 14' at kilometre 43. Team Katusha was the first of the strong squads to take on the chase sending Vorganov to the front of the pack. At the Côte de Saint-Roch (km 116.5), heading back up north to Liège, the gap had dropped down to 8'45. Moving closer to one of the first tricky moments of the race, the triple climb up the Wanne, Stockeu and Haute-Levée hills, the main contending teams chased on. Bad news for the escapees who could only count on a 4'50 advantage.
Sky in command
In the final moments of the climb up the Côte de Maquisard, Sander Armée was the first to be dropped. The Belgian was rapidly caught by a pack led by team Sky that had chosen that moment in the race to make their move sending strong man Vasil Kiryenka in first spot of the peloton. Looking strong up front, Bart De Clercq had other concerns as he had to cope with a puncture and a mechanical setback before eventually moving back in the leading group. At the bottom of the legendary Côte de la Redoute, the pack moved within a minute (40”) of the breakaway group.
Action packed Redoute
There wasn't much the escapees could do on the climb against the storming pack and Lopez Garcia (SKY) who decided to take off. Vincent Jerome was eventually the last of the escapees to be caught after a 215km break, while Lopez Garcia pulled away, taking with him several other riders. Eight men enjoyed the lead for a short while: Fuglsang (AST), Lopez Garcia (SKY), Ten Dam (BLA), Losada (KAT), Costa (MOV), Cunego (LAM), Fedrigo (FDJ) and Bardet (ALM). Chased by team BMC they were caught with 25 kilometres to go.
Contador shakes the pack
In the new climb on the course, the Côte de Colonster, Alberto Contador gave it a go. The Spaniard was rapidly joined by Uran (SKY), Anton (EUS), Hesjedal (GRS), Caruso (KAT) and Costa (MOV). It was then Hesjedal's turn to take his chance. In impressive fashion, the Giro 2012 champion pulled away enjoying a 20” lead over the pack with 10kms to go.
Hesjedal starts the Garmin-Sharp master-piece
The Canadian took on the climb up Saint-Nicolas with a slim 15” lead. Just behind Carlos Betancur, like on the Fleche Wallonne, took off. The little Colombian was caught by a group including Rodriguez (KAT), Valverde (MOV), Martin (GRS), Cunego and Scarponi (both LAM). Hesjedal was eventually caught in the last kilometres of the climb with just over 5kms to go.
Dan Martin finishes the job
The front seven remained clear of the chasing groups in the closing moments of the race. Just before the final kilometre, it was then Joaquim Rodriguez's turn to attack. Dan Martin was the only rider able to react to the Catalan's move. After catching up with the leader, the Irishman powered away with 300m to go. A good enough move to capture the 99th edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. After Sean Kelly in 1985, Daniel Martin becomes the second Irish rider to win the oldest of classics, beating two Spaniards to the line: Rodriguez and Valverde.