The first part of Alejandro Valverde’s outstanding 2017 season has come to an end in the best possible way, as he claimed his eleventh win of the year -108th of his 15-season professional- career at the 103rd edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a perfect, early present for his 37th birthday next Tuesday.
Valverde added another landmark success to his impressive palmarès by conquering ‘La Doyenne’, one of cycling’s five Monuments of the classics calendar, for the fourth time. The marvel from Murcia’s victory makes him the most successful rider ever (9) in the Ardennes duo (Flèche + Liège), and puts him just one win down on Eddy Merckx at the hills trio, also considering Amstel Gold Race. Valverde also becomes the first rider in history to win both in Huy and Ans three times in the same year.
The impressive action from the Movistar Team leader -the Blues have already got to 20 victories this year, their best-ever start to a season- came at the decisive slope of Ans, where Valverde jumped away from the group of favourites with less than 500 meters to go. ‘Bala’ caught Daniel Martin (QST), who had launched his own acceleration seconds before, and sprinted to the top of the podium, shared with the Irishman and third-place finisher Michal Kwiatkowski (SKY). Before that decisive moment, the Movistar Team worked to perfection all over the 258km course in Wallonia, Belgium. A dangerous eight-man break, whose last survivor Stéphane Rossetto (COF) was caught only at the foot of the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, 6km from the finish, forced Erviti, Herrada, Soler and Sutherland to work hard from early in the race.
At the decisive climbs of Roche-aux-Faucons and Saint-Nicolas, Betancur continued to follow the moves he had been keeping hold of earlier, while Rojas and Dani Moreno controlled the race sensationally well, even after the last ascent, to set their leader up in perfect position to continue writing history. Winning Liège for the fourth time -one short of Eddy Merckx, equal now to Moreno Argentin- rounds off a glorious spring campaign for ‘Bala’, who will now enjoy some rest before starting his build-up for the Tour de France, the next goal of his season.
Alejandro Valverde: “This victory is a tribute to Michele Scarponi. I was close friends with him and it made me really, really sad to see him go pass away so young, in such tragic circumstances. I just couldn’t believe it when I saw the news. It wasn’t just me, but the whole team, the whole cycling world. All prizes I get here today will go to his family.
“It’s a historical win – to be honest, it was a perfect week for us, even though it was so hard to get the victory today. Just like we did Wednesday at Flèche Wallonne, we took command of the race from the very beginning, yet there was a moment we left the front for other teams to take their turns, because the break was a big one and it would have been much more difficult to bring it back without help. Everyone was on the limit today.
“At the final slope in Ans, Martin really went hard to win solo, but I was looking for my distance to sprint, and with 300 meters to go, I just went on full steam to chase him down. Even though I saw Albasini sitting on my wheel, I had no doubts about carrying on. I was able to catch Martin, breathe for a few seconds and sprint to the line. Because of everything that happened yesterday, it’s undoubtedly my most special victory here. I want to thank my whole team, because they were incredible once again, and fulfilled their tasks perfectly so I could focus on pulling this off.”
Australian results: Liege-Bastogne-Liege 23rd April
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 6:24:27
2 Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors
3 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky 0:00:03
4 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb
33 Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:00:51
62 Nathan Haas (Aus) Dimension Data 0:03:38
66 Simon Clarke (Aus) Cannondale-Drapac 0:03:50
111 Rory Sutherland (Aus) Movistar Team 0:07:40
139 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-Scott 0:13:11
DNF Damien Howson (Aus) Orica-Scott
DNF Ben O’Connor (Aus) Dimension Data