After several strong performances in the races preceding ‘la Doyenne’ Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol) had high hopes of going for the win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Vanendert was second in the Amstel Gold Race last week and finished fourth in the Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday. He concluded his first spring classics season as team leader with three top ten results and the knowledge that he can mix in for the win at any of the three races in the Ardennes classics week.
“I hope I can come back to win here. Liège suits me most. The finish suits me a bit less but it should be possible for me to ride away in the finale,” Vanendert said.
On Sunday it turned out that the 27-year-old Belgian had the legs to win a rainy edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège but the lack of teammates in a tactical finale reduced his chances dramatically.
“Our team took its responsibility, which not all teams did. I have to thank the boys for that. They showed they had the courage to go for it. [Jurgen] Van den Broeck didn’t keep up very long. I think he wasn’t very well, but that was possibly due to the rain and coldness. Not everybody stands that weather very well. I’ve been cold too and I understand it,” Vanendert said.
“Astana was very strong and they had three or four guys up front. Katusha had two guys as well. It made it hard for an individual to do something. It was very tactical and hard to control. You can keep reacting but once in a while you have to take a risk. That way it was possible to win or to finish tenth with the same efforts. You needed a bit of luck.”
He finished the race tenth, crossing the finish line in the group that sprinted for third place, 36 seconds down on winner Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana).
“Iglinskiy is a very strong rider who’s always riding near the front. He’s often finished in the top-10 so it’s no surprise that he wins one.”
While Iglinskiy clearly was riding at a high level, he wasn't at the front when the action started on the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons. Vanendert was clearly able to follow Nibali but he gambled that other riders would close the gap.
“I figured that those from Astana, Katusha and others would control it but they attacked themselves all the time. They were right because Rodriguez got dropped in front. He wasn’t super anymore and that’s probably why they attacked all the time. In hindsight it was a bad decision from my side but maybe it would’ve gone wrong two kilometers further up the road. I think I rode a good race.”
In the descent from the Roche-aux-Faucons the Italian leader managed to build up a lead of half a minute on the first chase group with Iglinskiy and pre-race favorite Joaquím Rodriguez (Katusha). A group featuring more big guns followed at short distance. On the roads towards the final climb, the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, the big chase group lost valuable time and shortly before the climb Daniel Martin (Garmin-Barracuda) and Pierre Roland (Europcar) attacked.
“The co-operation wasn’t good. Everybody was at their limit. I knew I had to wait to do something. I used my bullet to fire on Saint-Nicolas but I fell short to get back to Nibali and Co. At the foot I attacked right away and I was coming back on [Daniel] Martin and [Pierre] Rolland but the others were too far ahead while I had two men on my wheel, including Voeckler who had Rolland up front.”
Vanendert now takes some time off to get ready for the Tour de France. He’ll return to competition at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June.