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Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2017: Alejandro Valverde takes emotional win

Martin James
23 Apr 2017

Unstoppable Spaniard again beats Dan Martin to the line, dedicates win to Michele Scarponi

Spain’s Alejandro Valverde chalked up yet another win in what’s turning out to be an incredible year by outsprinting Dan Martin to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

A tearful Valverde immediately dedicated the win to the memory of Italian Michele Scarponi, who was tragically killed after being hit by a van on a training ride yesterday morning.

Irishman Martin finished a strong second, as he did four days ago at Fleche Wallonne, but as on Wednesday he had no answer to Valverde’s ultimate pace.

Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski followed up his second place at Amstel Gold a week ago with a third place here, with Australia’s Michael Matthews of Orica-Scott notching up another top 10 finish by taking fourth.

It was Valverde’s fourth Liege-Bastogne-Liege win, and the Movista rider’s third Fleche Wallonne-LBL double.

Healthy lead

The day’s main breakaway saw a group of eight riders set off down the road into the forests of the Ardennes early on, building a healthy lead as the peloton kept its powder dry for the business end of the race.

As they passed through the town of Spa with some 50km to go, seven of them were still there: a pair of Cofidis riders in Frenchmen Anthony Perez and Stephane Rossetto, Kiwi Aaron Gate of Aqua Blue Sport, Direct Energie’s Fabien Grellier – another Frenchman – along with Portugal’s Tiago Machado (Katusha), Dutchman Nick van der Lijke (Roompot) and a sole Belgian, Bart de Clerq of Lotto Soudal.

At that point their lead was still a sizeable 6min 30sec, but the main field was very much on the move.

Valverde’s record fifth win at Fleche Wallonne in midweek marked him out as the clear favourite, so it was no surprise to see Movistar dictating terms.

Also prominent near the front were the riders of Quick-Step Floors – working for 2013 winner Dan Martin – and BMC, ostensibly riding for Paris-Roubaix winner Greg van Avermaet, though the Belgian himself insisted he wasn’t expecting to challenge for overall victory.

They were soon joined by Orica-Scott, unsurprisingly since they had any number of potential winners in their ranks including the Yates brothers Simon and Adam.

Entering the pivotal climb of the Cote de la Redoute the seven leaders still had a 4min 30sec gap to another group of seven riders who had slipped off the front of the main field in pursuit.

Sky’s Sebastien Henao tried his luck towards the top of the Redoute, looking to join them, and this provided the catalyst for any number of riders to have ago, and the net result was a general regrouping that left a reduced main field 3:45 behind Cofidis rider Perez, who had gone clear of the lead group.

Wishful thinking

But such a solo attack 30km out was always likely to end in failure (well, unless your surname is Gilbert), and Perez and the rest of his breakaway companions saw their advantage quickly tumbling as Quick Step upped the pace at the front of the peloton.

The 11% slopes of the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons with 20km to go were always likely to prove a major flashpoint, and so it proved.

Sky’s Sergio Henao set the fireworks going, then it was Orica Scott’s Roman Kreuzinger’s turn, with Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Rafael Majka and and Movistar’s Dani Moreno also in attendance.

Valverde had yet to show his hand, trusting that the field would regroup before the end – and with Moreno well placed if it didn’t.

At this point, though, there was still one man clear from the original breakaway. Cofidis’s Rossetto had passed teammate Perez on the Redoute and managed to hold on to inside the final 10km before he was reeled in.

Lotto Soudal’s Tim Wellens was the man to do the honours, putting in one of his customary late solo attacks – as he had done at Fleche Wallonne in midweek.

However, just as on Wednesday the move didn’t stick as the field hit the final climb of the day, the Cote de Saint-Nicolas.

Again it was Henao who was first onto the offensive, a move that was quickly covered, then Cannondale-Drapac’s Davide Formolo had a go, and held on over the top of the climb and into the final kilometre ahead of a select group of 25-odd riders.

On the steep run-up to the line, Dan Martin shot off the front in a burst of speed that only one man could match. Unfortunately for Martin, that man was Alejandro Valverde.

Earlier in the day, Anna van der Breggen won the first ever women’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege, beating British Boels-Dolmans teammate Lizzie Deignan and Poland’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma to the line.

Remarkably, it was the exact same finishing order as in the other two Ardennes Classics this week, last Sunday’s Amstel Gold and Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne.