4/22/2012 12:00:00 AM - TEAM NEWS!
Maxim Iglinskiy wins Liège - Bastogne - Liège
Nibali solos in for second and Gasparatto wins sprint for third
Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) attacked out of a small chasing group to catch Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) within sight of the flamme rouge and take the win in the 2012 Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Nibali had jumped from the field on the penultimate climb and tried to solo in the last 20km, but the Kazakh gave chase to claim his first Classic win.
Nibali exhaustedly crossed the finish line 20 seconds later, and Iglinskiy's teammate Enrico Gasparatto was third, winning the chase group's sprint. Last year's winner Philippe Gilbert (BMC), who had long been part of that group, relaxed when he realized he had no chance and rolled easily over the line in 16th place.
This race is often decided on La Redoute, but this year the action waited until the Cote de La Roche aux Faucons, with 20km to go. La Redoute had indeed reduced the field, and from there, BMC put up a furious pace around defending champion Gilbert. They caught and passed the remnants of the day's escape group. But at the top of the climb, it was Nibali at the head of things, and he took off alone on the descent, only to be caught again at the last minute.
At the start in chilly Liège, 200 riders left the Saint-Lambert Square while the sun was peeping through the dark clouds. Even before the official departure, outsider Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) hit the deck and broke his collarbone.
In almost every Spring Classic this year, the early breakaway only got away after the first hour of racing and La Doyenne was no different. Despite several earlier attempts, it took an hour before three riders escaped after 40km of racing: Dario Cataldo (Omega Pharma - Quick Step), Simon Geschke (Argos-Shimano) and Kevin Ista (Accent Jobs - Veranda's Willems),and they were soon joined by Reiner Honig (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony), Grégory Habeaux (Accent Jobs - Veranda's Willems) and Alessandro Bazzana (Team Type 1 - Sanofi). By that time, the gap had skyrocketed to more than 12 minutes. That was the signal for the Katusha team of top favorite Joaquím Rodriguez to start working.
In Bastogne - at the turning point - rain showers tortured the riders when they reached the feed zone. From there, the gap dropped from 12 minutes to seven minutes after the second climb of the day, the Côte de Saint-Roch. The average speed dropped back to 38km/h while Katusha kept the gap at around seven minutes in the long zone before the third climb of the day, the Côte de Wanne. The peloton started getting restless while several riders were beginning to feel the pain of the demanding Ardennes course, getting dropped on the Wanne. The gap was down to just over five minutes after this climb.
Just before hitting the Cote de Stockeu, the front group lost Geschke in a crash and while in the peloton, favorite Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) ran into problems as well. The gap dropped to under three minutes on the long, demanding climbs. On the Levée , Pierre Rolland (Europcar) attacked, accompanied by Vasil Kiryienka (Europcar) and David Le Lay (Saur-Sojasun). They caught the five remaining leaders by the 4km long climb up the Col du Rosier. The peloton, led by BMC and Lotto Belisol, trailed the front of the race by one and a half minutes while riding in and out of rain showers.
The fast pace set by the newcomers in the break resulted in several dropped riders, but the gap back to the peloton remained above one minute. The rain continued to come down, and the riders packed themselves in dry, warm clothes. Cataldo, Bazzana, Rolland, Lelay and Kiryienka held on to a fairly consistent 1:30 lead for a while. Mads Christensen (Saxo Bank) jumped from the field but never got far away, as the looming La Redoute dominated things, with the teams bringing their captains early into position.
The fearsome climb tore the lead group apart, and behind them, the peloton gobbled up Christensen. Both Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) had technical problems on the climb, throwing them back, while Gilbert rode easily at the head of the field. While the chasing peloton got noticeably smaller, there was no real decisive move made.
Kiryienka and Rolland came over the top with about a 45-second lead, with Cataldo chasing them and struggling to catch up and hang on. He finally made it to the other two.
BMC kept the pace high, high enough that splits started appearing in the long, strung-out peloton. With only 25km to go, the gap had fallen to under 30 seconds. With 21km to go, the leaders hit the penultimate climb, the Cote de La Roche aux Faucons, with only a 14-second lead, with BMC still leading the chase. Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) couldn't hold the pace and fell off the back of the field.
Kiryienka was finally alone in the lead, but was caught by a small high-powered group including Nibali and Gilbert. Rodriguez found himself struggling, as the field tore apart on the high-speed climb.
Nibali stayed at the head of things as they crested the climb, and he took off on the descent, hoping to pick up enough of a gap on the remaining 19km to avoid a sprint at the finish. The chase groups, consisting of Gilbert, Gasparotto, Iglinskiy, Sanchez, Rodriguez, Kiserlovski, Mollema, Rolland, Voeckler, Scarponi, Van Den Broeck, Nocentini, Hesjedal, Martin, and Vanendert, were very fluid, with multiple attacks, and very little cooperation or co-ordination.
Nibali was able to take 22 seconds into the final 15km, with Iglinskiy and Rodriguez closest behind him. The Liquigas rider turned on the speed, and with 10km to go, had built his gap up to 39 seconds.
Martin and Rolland were the next to attack out of the Gilbert group, but Nibali had found his rhythm and kept pulling away. He went alone and perhaps not quite so easily up the final climb of the Cote de Saint Nicolas, but maintained his lead. Iglinskiy was surprisingly able to drop Rodriguez on the steep climb, and behind them, Gilbert had difficulties as well.
Iglinskiy crossed the top 46 seconds down on Nibali, but doggedly gave chase, getting closer and closer. The tiring Italian was unable to give any more and virtually within sight of the flamme rouge, he was caught and passed by the Astana rider.
Iglinskiy powered his way up the closing climb, extending his lead and crossing the finish line 20 seconds ahead of the exhausted Nibali. Gasparotto won the sprint of the chase group to claim another podium place for Astana.
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