Liège-Bastogne-Liège runner-up Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) said choosing the wrong gear in the dash for the line made what was already an uphill battle against eventual winner Woet Poels (Team Sky) an even tougher one on Sunday.
After ripping the peloton apart late-on with a blistering solo acceleration on the Cote de la Rue de Naniot, the veteran Swiss rider said he had thought he was the strongest in the four-man group that formed over the top of the climb. And given what proved to be the winning break in large part had moved away thanks to Albasini’s brutal charge up the kilometre-long cobbled ascent, he could perhaps be forgiven for being of that opinion.
But after closing down one of Poels late attacks on the final ascent to Ans, when the final sprint unfurled on the last left-hand bend and 200-metre straightaway, Albasini could not respond to the Dutchman’s race-winning acceleration. However, having done everything right up until then, the Swiss rider said ruefully afterwards he had only himself to blame for, if not beating Poels, finishing over a bike-length behind and clearly defeated.
“I thought perhaps I was the strongest of the four,” Albasini said, “but in the sprint, my gearing was too small. I couldn’t do the sprint with the same power, and I should have changed my gears beforehand.
“That was my error, although I have to admit he did a super sprint, too. He was already ahead of me in Fleche Wallonne” - where Poels took fourth - “so if I can’t be happy with second, I realise I’ve done a good race all the same.”
A very strong ride by Albasini in the closing kilometres of the Amstel Gold Race had already suggested the 35-year-old was on top form this April. Then after placing seventh in Fleche Wallonne, the one race of the year where Albasini traditionally goes from his usual role of top domestique for other leaders in Orica-GreenEdge, on Sunday the point came when it became clear 2014 Liège winner Simon Gerrans, finally 33rd, was having something of an off-day. Albasini was duly and quickly ‘promoted’ to Orica’s stand-in team leader - and, initially, he flourished in that role.
“On the Cote de San Nicolas, I saw Simon wasn’t there any more, so I tried to stay as close to the front as possible, “Albasini said afterwards, “I always tried to be in the first five, and then on the pavé [of the Cote de la Rue Naniot] I really went for it.” It was only afterwards that things fell apart.
In any case, Albasini’s second place in Liège ends a spring Classics season for Orica-GreenEdge where the undoubted highlight was definitely Mathew Hayman’s win in Paris-Roubaix, but in which riders like Albasini have had their chance to shine too. As the Swiss rider concluded, “It’s an Australian team, but everybody in this squad counts.
“Maybe in the cobbled Classics we’ve not been the best team before, but Mathew has had some unlucky crashes there in other years. This year he didn’t and he was there in Roubaix to win.”
And whilst Hayman will surely have full protected rider status in Paris-Roubaix in years to come following this spring’s victory, for Albasini, his near-miss in Liège and, above all, his hugely impressive performance on the new late climb, strongly suggests Orica-GreenEdge will have another card to play in La Doyenne for the future, too.