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Another hat trick for Alejandro Valverde at Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Photo Credit: Movistar Team

Just four days after winning his third La Flèche Wallonne, Alejandro Valverde (Spain/Movistar) took his third Liège-Bastogne-Liège, nipping Julian Alaphilippe (France/Etixx-QuickStep) for the second time in a week. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain/Katusha), twice runner up in “La Doyenne”, or the Oldest, was third in Sunday’s 101st edition.

The LBL has ten climbs and there are two triplets of ascents that are key. The Wanne, Stockeu and Haute-Levée come just inside the second half of the 253-km route and the Redoute, Roche-aux-Faucons and Saint-Nicolas come close to the finishing town of Ans, where there’s a ramp up to the line. The thing that distinguishes these climbs from others in the Spring Classics is that they are longer and just as steep.

An eight-man break established itself and began to fragment on the Walle with Europcar doing the chasing in the peloton. The escape imploded on the Haute-Levée and Astana was on the hunt. The new break formed, consisting of Michele Scarponi (Italy/Astana), Tanel Kangert (Estonia/Astana), Esteban Chaves (Colombia/Orica-GreenEdge), Manuele Boaro (Italy/Tinkoff-Saxo) and Julien Arredondo (Colombia/Trek), but Arredondo and Boaro couldn’t hang on before the Col du Rosier, one of two climbs between the two triplets.

The trio of fugitives headed towards the Col du Maquisard with a minute’s lead on the peloton and 50-km to go. Movistar took up the pace-making duties. The escape wasn’t fated to make the Côte de La Redoute in the lead, but a huge crash that took out some of the favourites worked in the trio’s favour.

At the 37-km to go mark, the Redoute is 2-km long with an average slope of 8.9% and a maximum of 19%. Kangert was the first breakaway to fade back on its slopes as Etixx-QuickStep brought the 50-man peloton closer. Reigning champion Simon Gerrans (Australia/Orica-GreenEdge), already having biffed, crashed again and withdrew. On the 15-km between the Redoute and the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons (1.5-km @ 9.4%), Sky’s Kanstantin Siutsou (Belarus) flared away in an attempt to bridge but failed.

Katusha and Movistar were the interested parties heading towards the Roche-aux-Faucons and the leading duo was absorbed with 24-km remaining. It was an orderly procession up the Roche-aux-Faucons until Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic/Tinkoff-Saxo) attacked over the top. Giampaolo Caruso (Italy/Katusha) joined him.

The Côte de Saint-Nicolas comes with 6-km to go and is just over a kilometre in length with an average grade of 8.5%. Several riders tried to bridge to the Czech-Italian alliance up front before this decisive climb. Dane Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) was the first to make the junction. A high-caliber chase quintet couldn’t get itself organized and was absorbed.

The rain hit the race before the Saint-Nicolas, and Kreuziger, Caruso and Fuglsang hit the foot of the ascent with a wee gap. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy/Astana) attacked first and brought back the escape. 2011 winner Philippe Gilbert (Belgium/BMC) cracked.

It would come down to the 1.5-km, 5% climb to the finish line in Ans. Fifteen riders remained at the front, Katusha well represented. Dani Moreno (Spain/Katusha) led the select group under the red kite and soon opened up a significant gap. Valverde waited for the 600-metre mark to chase and Rodriguez and others came with him. Valverde pushed to the line and Alaphillipe punched his handlebars in frustration, Etixx having been runner-up in six of the eight WorldTour one-day races this season.

Not only did Valverde win the two Belgian races of the Ardennes Classics, but also came second in last Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race in the Limburg region of the Netherlands. He leads the WorldTour rankings.

The WorldTour now takes a break from one-day races until the Clásica de San Sebastián on August 1.

2015 Liège-Bastogne-Liège
1) Alejandro Valverde (Spain/Movistar) 6:14:20
2) Julian Alaphilippe (France/Etixx-QuickStep) s.t.
3) Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain/Katusha) s.t.