Giro champion plays pivotal role in Martin's Liège win
Garmin-Sharp's cobbled Classics were ravaged by illness and injury but the promise showed by Dan Martin in Fleche Wallonne, and finally capitalised on in his win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, was neatly summed up by teammate Ryder Hesjedal.
"I think you could say we salvaged the Classics season," the Canadian said with a wry grin as he rolled to the team bus at the race finish in Ans.
Garmin's victory on Sunday came down to the attack by Hesjedal on the Côte de Colonster, the penultimate climb of the 261.5km Ardennes Classic. It was the spot that Peter Stetina had suggested to Cyclingnews earlier in the day that would see the strong names come to the fore, making clear that the team had come to Liège to deliver Martin to victory.
"It makes it more tactical but that makes it harder," Stetina had said. The teamwork in the final kilometres of the race made it look anything but.
Bypassing Rigoberto Uran (Sky), Alberto Contador (Team Saxo-Tinkoff) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Hesjedal went for broke on the Colonster, time trialling his way to a maximum 21-second lead on the various chase groups.
"When the gap's growing you always believe [you can stay away] but just to get a head start, that's my style. Stay on it," Hesjedal said.
The next and final climb of Côte de Saint-Nicolas, a little over five kilometres from the finish, saw Hesjedal's lead cut by over nine seconds. Eventually caught by the group containing Martin, Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Carlos Betancur (Ag2R La Mondiale), Hesjedal showed little signs of fatigue, maintaining his momentum, ensuring that he stayed with the group and giving Garmin-Sharp strength in numbers. There were no words, just work between the pair.
"We've been riding our bikes for a while. We know. In that situation we had the numbers, it's pretty straight forward," said Hesjedal.
Second-year pro Nathan Haas had the task of protecting Martin on Sunday, but the 24-year-old said that it was one that was almost null and void with the easy-going Irishman relaxed throughout the race, joking with his Australian teammate.
"In the end he's just so good at it naturally that after a while you just start sitting on his wheel to make sure no one sort of bombs in," Haas told Cyclingnews. "He just looked so good on the bike today."
Martin may have been coming off an overall win at the Volta a Catalunya and openly admitted that La Doyenne was one of his major objectives of the entire season, but it was Hesjedal who was the designated leader out on the road. Hesjedal said that to come away with a victory given the circumstance said much about the team.
"We've got to share the workload on the team," the 2012 Giro d'Italia winner said. "I'm getting ready for the Giro but those guys still let me have the leader role here. Coming up with a victory that way here today is unbelievable.
"I'm building for the Giro - everything looks good. If I was able to do that today, I'm happy."
Haas also credited the teamwork on show.
"There's a lot of professional respect between Hes' and Dan," he said. "They've both done amazing things in their own right but Hes' really put in that effort to set up Dan's win perfectly. Guys like Michel Kreder just rode so well into La Redoute with Dan and that was a really scary section of the race."
Celebrating the team's fifth win of the season, Haas said that the atmosphere inside the team bus needed to be seen to believed. The BMC team, who could only manage seventh place with Philippe Gilbert, a few rows down in the car park had been delivered pizzas by a soigneur. Haas shrugged it off.
"Who needs pizzas when you win? We got winning pie!"
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