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Live coverage of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The 199 starters have just set out from Liège under clear skies, with the temperature a pleasant 18 degrees and set to rise as the day goes on.
In spite of the 257.5km and ten categorised climbs facing the riders, the attacking starts from the moment the flag is dropped.
Sébastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet) and Jesus Herrada Lopez (Movistar) manage to jump clear 3km in, and shortly afterwards David Le Lay (Ag2r-La Mondiale) bridges across.
8km in and the trio of escapees have an advantage of 20 seconds over the peloton, but there is no shortage of riders who want to try and make it into the echapee matinale, so they might have their work cut out to stay clear.
The outward leg of the race, to Bastogne, is significantly flatter than the return journey, with just the Côte de Saint-Roch (1km at 11 %) to test the legs 71.5km in. Depending on the wind conditions (which will not be a factor today, it seems), it gives any early breakaway ample opportunity to build up a lead before the pace begins to ratchet up ahead of the gruelling series of climbs in the final 100km.
Simon Geschke (Skil-Shimano) makes a bid to bridge across to the leaders, but it's hard to escape the clutches of the peloton.
A group of six riders has managed to forge across the leading trio, and we now have a nine-man break off the front, although the gap remains at just 20 seconds.
There are now eight riders clear of the bunch with a 30 second advantage: Sébastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet), Jesus Herrada Lopez (Movistar), David Le Lay (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), Tony Gallopin (Cofidis), Mickael Delage (FDJ) and Yannick Talabardon (Saur-Sojasun).
Eight different teams are represented, so this break should have a decent chance of being able to stay clear for the first half of the race. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) both have teammates up there, so their teams will not have to take responsibility for setting the pace behind.
Pre-race favourite Philippe Gilbert does not have an Omega Pharma-Lotto teammate in the breakaway, however. There is no representative from Leopard Trek there either though, so the burden of the pursuit should not fall squarely on Gilbert's team's shoulders.
Simon Geschke (Skil-Shimano) is also in the break up front. Bizarrely, the German made an attempt to go clear of his fellow escapees by himself, but now he is working as part of that group.
Kristof VandeWalle (Quick Step), David Loosli (Lampre-ISD) and Laurens De Vreese (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) try to make it across to the lead group, but after wading through no man's land for a couple of kilometres without making any real progress, they sit up. It looks like they've missed the bus for the early break.
Mathias Frank (BMC) manages to make it across alone, however. A great effort from the Swiss rider, as the leading group is certainly not hanging around. Meanwhile, it appears that Sebastien Delfosse has dropped out of the break, so there are still nine riders up front, and their lead is 40 seconds over the peloton.
Not surprisingly, Philippe Gilbert was the main attraction at the start in Liège this morning. Born in Verviers, just a stone's throw from the route of La Doyenne, this is the race that he covets above all others.
As a Walloon and given his aptitude in the Ardennes Classics, Gilbert is obviously a hugely popular figure in this part of the world, but during the cobbled Classics, it was striking that the Francophone Gilbert also commanded the adulation of the Flemish public.
Gilbert mania has reached fever pitch this week of course. After clinical victories at Amstel Gold Race and Fleche Wallone, he is on course for an Ardennes hat-trick. Like Wayne Rooney's goals, Gilbert's big wins seem to come in bursts. The past two Autumns he has dominated the late-season calendar of Italian races, and now he is looking to replicate that feat in the Ardennes.
Out on the road, the race has settled down now and the nine escapees have been granted their morning passes from the peloton. The break has a lead of 3:20.
The last man to achieve the Ardennes hat-trick of Amstel, Fleche and Liege was Davide Rebellin, back in 2004.
That achievement was of course tainted considerably by Rebellin's positive test for CERA at the 2008 Olympic Games, although absurdly the Italian still had time to win another Fleche Wallone (his third) in April 2009 before being suspended.
Rebellin's two-year ban expires this week, on April 27, and he has been linked with a move to the Andalucia-Caja Granada team. Back in November, he was make optimistic noises about his chances of representing Italy at the Worlds.
The Omega Pharma-Lotto team has come to the front of the bunch now in a bid to keep tabs on the gap to the breakaway.
For now, their advantage is holding steady at 3:15.
Movistar has Jesus Herrada Lopez in the breakaway, although the Spanish team will probably try to set up Vasil Kiryienka today; the Belarusian performed well at Flèche Wallonne.
The team leader today was supposed to be Xavier Tondo Volpini, who won the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, but he was forced out of La Doyenne. The Spanish rider was present in Liège this weekend but he told Cyclingnews on Saturday that he struggled too much with a 4mm kidney stone. “I'm drinking canals of water but it's not gone yet. It's too painful to race here,” he said.
There's no Quick-Step rider in the breakaway even though it might be the only way for the Belgian team to be successful in La Doyenne. Team manager Patrick Lefevre told Cyclingnews’ Brecht Decaluwé this morning that his expectations weren't really high.
“Sylvain Chavanel was in top form during Gent-Wevelgem and the Ronde van Vlaanderen but now he's beyond it,” Lefevre said. “Maybe Jérôme Pineau is capable of riding the finale today, just like he did during the Flèche Wallonne.”
The gap has come down slightly to 2:50 thanks to Omega Pharma-Lotto's efforts at the front.
The Schleck brothers’ Leopard Trek team was one of the last to reach the sign-up table. They usually go there all together and that's also what they did this morning. The team's press officer explained that team manager Kim Andersen insists that the riders show up as one team and not as a bunch of individuals. Our man Brecht Decaluwé wonders if that’s why they didn’t have anybody in the breakaway this morning…
On Saturday Fränk Schleck said he expected a lot of fans because they were riding close to their home region Luxembourg, while Andy added that he would be happy with a win from the team, and even happier with a Schleck victory.
Stephen Farrand was also at the start in Liege for Cyclingnews, and his excellent start line gallery is now online. Check it out here.
The nine men up front are now approaching the day's first difficulty, the Côte de Saint-Roch. Though just a kilometre in length, its 11% slopes provide a foretaste of the difficulties that are to follow on the long road back to Liege...
Meanwhile, the break's advantage has climbed again to 3:20, with Omega Pharma-Lotto still keeping vigil at the head of the peloton.
Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) leads the break over the summit of the first climb, the Cote de Saint-Roch. The Belgian was very active early in last year's Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and he's looking to repeat the feat this time around.
De Gendt enjoyed a spectacular run of form at Paris-Nice in March, winning stage one, and dramatically retaking the overall lead later in the week, and he seems to be one of the main engines in this break.
Elsewhere, the opening stage of the Tour of Turkey has just finished, and the news reaching us from Istanbul is that Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) has beaten Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) in the bunch sprint.
The Italian neo-pro has enjoyed a spectacular start to life at the highest level. Although not included in Farnese Vini's initial Giro roster, team manager Luca Scinto has allegedly promised him a berth if he wins two stages in Turkey...
A full report and results from Turkey will be coming shortly.
Rabobank and Leopard Trek are also starting to contribute to Omega Pharma-Lotto's work at the front of the bunch, and the gap to the break remains stable at 3:15.
Garmin-Cervélo sports director Eric Van Lancker is a former winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He won La Doyenne in 1990. This morning he told our man that the race hasn't changed too much in the intervening period.
"The Amstel Gold was completely different but this one is quite similar. The addition of the Roche aux Faucons made the race much harder. Also, don't underestimate the uphill road towards the finish in Ans. It's not an official climb but after 250km it's extremely tough on the legs," Van Lancker said. The Belgian said that the team was looking forward to this one, and with Ryder Hesjedal and Christian Vandevelde they have two very strong riders in their line-up.
After two hours of racing, the breakaway has an average speed of 42.1km/h. Although there has been just one categorised climb so far, the course is by no means flat, with the riders facing constant ups and downs on the road to Bastogne, so they're clearly not hanging around.
It will be fascinating to see the tactics adopted over the second half of the race, and in particular, it will be interesting to see how tightly Philippe Gilbert is marked. For now, his Omega Pharma-Lotto team has allies of circumstance in Leopard Trek, but the Luxembourg team will be aiming to isolate and attack Gilbert as the race progresses.
The experienced Jens Voigt reckons that the Cote de la Roche Faucons could be the place for the Schleck brothers to stake their claim, and yesterday he talked tactics with Cyclingnews.
Andy Schleck won the race in 2009, while the brothers were part of the winning break a year previously, but lost out to Alejandro Valverde in Ans.
The peloton passes through the village of Longvilly 3:30 behind the breakaway, which does in fact still include Sebastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet).
The ten escapees reach the feed zone at Bastogne, where they have a lead of 3:40 over the peloton. They make a sharp right turn here, and then begin to head back towards Liege.
The next climb on the agenda is the Côte de Wanne, a shade over 50km away. Once the bunch reaches its slopes, the war of attrition will begin in earnest. Until then, the break will do its utmost to stretch out its lead as much as possible.
Oscar Freire (Rabobank) suffered a puncture but made it swiftly back on to the main bunch. With the peloton slowing down on the approach to the feed zone, the Spaniard could hardly have punctured at a better time.
David Le Lay is contributing well to the efforts of the breakaway group. His Ag2r-La Mondiale leader Nicolas Roche crashed at Fleche Wallone on Wednesday, but the Irishman back in action here. Incidentally, Roche's cousin Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervelo) was also a faller on Wednesday.
Omega Pharma-Lotto are doing the lion's share of the pace-setting in the peloton, which is surely something that Gilbert would rather have avoided, and he runs the risk of being left isolated in the finale.
Of course, if rumours are to be believed, next year the Belgian might well have a different team supporting him. Ever since Eddy Merckx let slip in an interview over Christmas that he believed Astana would be an ideal squad for Gilbert, speculation has gathered apace that he will join the Kazakh team next season.
Current team leader Alexandre Vinokourov has done little to downplay such rumours.
"I’ve known Philippe for many years now and we train together quite a lot,” he said. “I'd love to see him come to Astana. Whether that's possible or not depends on the sponsors and the people in charge."
As if Vinokourov isn't the man in charge...
One team who will be very pleased with the way the race has panned out so far is Katusha. With Vorganov representing their interests in the break, Joaquim Rodriguez and Alexandr Kolobnev can sit and watch Omega Pharma-Lotto and Leopard Trek lead the pursuit. Rodriguez will have been disappointed to have been so soundly beaten by Gilbert at Fleche Wallone on Wednesday, mind, especially on a climb that seemed so well-suited to his talents.
The squad also boasts Danilo Di Luca, although the Italian failed to make an impact at Fleche Wallone, in his first appearance in the race since his return from a suspension for CERA use.
Omega Pharma-Lotto's work brings the gap down to 2:45.
Interesting fact from letour.fr. If Philippe Gilbert wins today, it will be the eighth Classic victory of his career, which is as many as Bernard Hinault managed in his entire career.
For the record, Gilbert's seven Classic wins to date are: Amstel Gold Race (2010, 2011), Flèche Wallonne (2011), Paris-Tours (2008, 2009), and Tour of Lombardy (2009, 2010).
In scarcely over 18 months, since October 2009, Gilbert has won no fewer than six classics! A phenomenal strike rate that he could improve still further this afternoon...
The ten up front are continuing to plough on ahead of the main field, with 20km still to go before the beginning of the real climbing action. The gap, which has been fluctuating either side of the 3-minute mark is currently stable at 3:15.
While Gilbert has been busy collecting bouquets at the Classics in the past couple of seasons, the long Italian drought in the big one-day races continues.
Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r-La Mondiale) was the best-placed Italian at Fleche Wallone, in a lowly 31st, and there were few encouraging signs to be had from the performances of Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD), Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Danilo Di Luca.
Vincenzo Nibali has come north from the Giro del Trentino to bolster the Italian challenge here. However, Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD), who is enjoying a very productive spell at the moment, has steered clear of Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Scarponi has instead opted to undergo another training camp at altitude ahead of the Giro d'Italia. His last camp was on Mount Etna.
Even though Gilbert's Omega Pharma-Lotto companions are still massed on the front of the peloton, the gap to the break of ten has stretched out to four minutes over the past 10km. Clearly the Belgian squad does not want to exert itself needlessly before the start of the serious climbing.
The ten leaders are now tackling the Côte de Wanne. With an average gradient of 7.3%, it's by no means the steepest hill on the parcours, but its 2.7km of climbing will test the legs and announce the beginning of the real hostilities.
Once again Thomas De Gendt leads over the top of the climb, ahead of Delfosse and Vorganov.
Meanwhile, as anticipated the intensity of the peloton picked up a notch on hitting the climb. At the summit, the bunch are just 2:50 behind the ten leaders.
Cyclingnews spoke to Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervelo) before the start of the race as he waited with fellow Irishmen Matt Brammeier (HTC-Highroad), Nicholas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Philip Deignan (RadioShack).
Martin is racing with a bandage and strapping on his left arm after his crash at Fleche Wallonne.
"I landed hard on my elbow. But that's not the problem. I also damaged my arm muscle so it's difficult to move my arm. But I'll see what I can do," he said.
Martin is likely to help team leaders Ryder Hesjedal, Christophe Le Mevel and Christian Vande Velde in the final part of the race.
Over the top of the Cote de Wanne, and it's Leopard Trek who have caused the sudden reduction of the gap between the break and the peloton. The Schleck brothers have sent their team to the front and their acceleration has begun to string out the bunch. The gap is now down to 2:10.
On the next climb of the Cote de Stockeu (1km at 12.2%), it's again De Gendt who leads the break over the top.
Behind, De Gendt's teammate Johnny Hoogerland attacks out of the peloton on the climb.
Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) joins Hoogerland over the top of the Stockeu, and the duo set off in pursuit of the breakaway. There is scarcely any respite before the next climb, the Côte de la Haute-Levée.
The Côte de la Haute-Levée is one of the shallower climbs in Liege-Bastogne-Liege with an average gradient of 5.6%. However, it's 3.6km to the summit, so it can break things up.
1km to the top of the Haute-Levee. De Gendt is setting the pace on the front, but the gap to the break is down to 1:10.
Meanwhile, Roman Kreuziger (Astana) puts in a dig from the main bunch on the climb.
Kreuziger is brought back, but Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) launches an acceleration on the Haute-Levee that seems to be bringing a chase group of around ten riders clear of the peloton.
Garate is also up there, as is Greg Van Avermaet.
Up ahead, Delage and Talabardon have been dropped by the break on the Haute-Leve but are battling to get back on.
The chase group has caught Delage and Talabardon, and they are 39 seconds down on the remnants of the early break.
That chase group is made up of Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), Juan Manuel Garate (Rabobank), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Jerome Pineau (Quick Step), Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Dario Cataldo (Quick Step), Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale), Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Yannick Talabardon (Saur-Sojasun) and Mickael Delage (FDJ).
Rabobank, Astana and Quick Step now have two riders apiece up the road, while Omega Pharma-Lotto are left to do the bulk of the work in the main peloton.
On the Col du Rosier, the chase group look set to bridge the gap to the break, it's down to 23 seconds.
Astana are being very aggressive today. Remi Di Gregorio has launched an attack out of the bunch in the company of Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha).
Kessiakoff and Delfosse have been dropped from the leading break, as the pace continues to hot up in front and behind.
Thomas De Gendt looks to be clearly the strongest main in the leading group, and he now just has four riders for company - Frank, Gallopin, Vorganov and Herrada - over the top of the Rosier.
Di Gregorio is brought back by the peloton, but Giampaolo Caruso continues his pursuit with Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) now keeping him company, just ahead of the Omega Pharma-Lotto-led bunch.
Kanstantsin Siutsou (HTC-Highroad) is also in the large chase group. He put in an impressive effort to get across on the Rosier.
Less than 20 seconds down on the De Gendt-led break, they should form a sizeable lead group ahead of the next climb, the Col du Maquisard.
Egoi Martinez and Caruso have desisted their efforts ahead of the peloton, which is still being led by Omega Pharma-Lotto.
There are conspicuously fewer Omega Pharma-Lotto jerseys up there now, however. Gilbert might well be quite isolated come the finale, although he still has Jurgen Van Den Broeck to help out.
On the Masquisard, Gilbert is visible five riders back in the main field, as he keeps a close watch on affairs.
The early break has been caught by the chasers on the slopes of the Masquisard, and the newly-expanded group has a lead of 0:46 over the peloton.
Jesus Herrada has been dropped from the lead group and there are now 13 riders at the head of the race over the top of the Masquisard: Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), Tony Gallopin (Cofidis), Mathias Frank (BMC), Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), Juan Manuel Garate (Rabobank), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Jerome Pineau (Quick Step), Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Dario Cataldo (Quick Step), Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale), Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) and Kanstantsin Siutsou (HTC-Highroad).
A little under 10km to the next climb, the 2.6km long Mont Theux, which has an average gradient of 5.9%.
After that comes La Redoute, and it is around here that we might expect to see the Schleck brothers and Leopard Trek begin their pressing.
Garate and Ten Dam are doing a lot of work in the 13-man group at the head of the race, although to be fair, everybody seems to be contributing to the collective effort. They have 1:08 over the peloton with 52km to race.
On the lower slopes of Mont Theux, and it's Greg Van Avermaet who sets the tempo for the escapees. He was hugely impressive at Milan-San Remo, and led the race over the Poggio.
Incidentally, Mont Theux saw a fearsome attack from Miguel Indurain during the 1995 Tour de France. The Spaniard surprised his rivals by attacking on the eve of the race's first major time trial, although he missed out on the stage win and the yellow jersey after his breakaway companion sat on and then outsprinted Indurain at the finish.
His name? Johan Bruyneel.
Gasparotto leads the break over the summit of Mont Theux, while the bunch is spread across the road behind. There aren't very many Omega Pharma-Lotto jerseys up there any more...
Leopard Trek have taken over the pace-setting at the front of the peloton now on the run-in to La Redoute, with Fabian Wegman and Jens Voigt prominent. There is a mass of Astana riders gathered behind them too, with Alexandre Vinokourov safely ensconced.
The gap to the break is not 1:40...
Omega Pharma-Lotto have stopped contributing to the chase and it's been left to Leopard Trek. Frank Schleck rides past Philippe Gilbert on his way towards the front and has a word, but the Belgian looks nonplussed.
Omega Pharma-Lotto clearly feel they've done their stint, and now it's up to Leopard Trek to help bring back the 13 up front.
Fabian Wegman is grimacing on the front of the peloton, but in spite of his best efforts the break's advantage remains 1:40.
Katusha, Astana, Rabobank, Quick Step and Liquigas-Cannondale are all represented in the lead group, so they will not move a muscle to bring it back for now.
The BMC duo of Van Avermaet and Mathias Frank are very active at the head of the break. In the absence of Cadel Evans, Van Avermaet is the team's best chance of a result today, and the Belgian is certainly not letting his opportunity pass him by.
The breakaway is now at the foot of the Cote de la Redoute, 2km of climbing at an average of 8.8%. It would be a surprise if they stay together all the way to the top, especially with that steep section near the summit.
Leopard Trek's chasing has finally begin to tell. The gap is down to 1:10 as the bunch hits La Redoute.
De Gendt is the first man of the break to be dropped.
A crash at the rear of the peloton, with Stefan Drefil (Leopard Trek) a faller. Meanwhile, his teammate Jakob Fuglsang is setting the pace on the front of the bunch.
Enrico Gasparotto surges on the steepest section of La Redoute, with Jerome Pineau the man best able to follow. Van Avermaet is also well able to respond, with Kadri and Siutsou also staying in contact.
Frank Schleck moves onto Fuglsang's shoulder, with his brother Andy on his wheel.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) is also up there, along with Gilbert, who is looking comfortable.
Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) is suffering behind.
Gasparotto leads over the top of La Redoute. 47 seconds back to the bunch.
Fuglsang has been fantastic on the climb of La Redoute in the service of the Schleck brothers. His pace-setting has strung out the bunch and a number of riders are starting to suffer at the rear of the field.
The Dane's efforts have also brought the gap down to 51 seconds.
La Redoute certainly weeded out the front group, with just eight riders left in front: Gasparotto is still up there, along with the Rabobank duo of Garate and Ten Dam. Van Avermaet and Pineau are also present.
Nicki Sorensen (Saxo Bank SunGard) attacks after the La Redoute, and makes it across to the remnants of the break, the five riders who lost contact on the climb.
Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), Juan Manuel Garate (Rabobank), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Jerome Pineau (Quick Step), Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) and Kanstantsin Siutsou (HTC-Highroad) are the riders left out in front, with 35 seconds in hand on the peloton.
Nicki Sorensen's attack has been brought back, as have the riders who were dropped from the lead group on La Redoute.
The Leopard Trek-led bunch is a shade under 30 seconds down on the leaders.
The next climb is the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, 1.5km at 9.5%. We're a little over 8km from the foot of that ascent, and fireworks are anticipated from the Schleck brothers there.
It's worth noting that Vincenzo Nibali and Ivan Basso are both sitting comfortably in the reduced peloton.
Rabobank still have two men in the lead group in Juan Manuel Garate and Laurens Ten Dam. For now the breakaways are sticking resolutely to their task and their gap is gone back out to 45 seconds.
Maxime Monfort (Leopard Trek) was setting the pace in the bunch but he has no swung over, and there is a disagreement in the main field over whose responsibility it is to chase.
Andy Schleck appeals to Philippe Gilbert, but Gilbert is not bowing to the pressure. His teammates pulled for most of the first 180km, he is not keen to commit any more riders at this stage.
Gilbert knows that Leopard Trek will be looking to launch on offensive on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, so he won't have his remaining teammates work before then.
Garate struggles on the early slopes of the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, and indeed the break has split to pieces on the climb. Enrico Gasparotto has clearly been the strongest man and he is gone clear with Greg Van Avermaet.
Double attack from the Schleck brothers on the Roche aux Faucons. Gilbert follows with ease and the trio open up an instant lead on the peloton.
Frank went first and then Andy followed, but he had Gilbert on his wheel.
The trio are picking off the remnants of the break and will soon be up to Gasparotto and Van Avermaet.
Puncture for Vinokourov on the climb! He gets a wheel from Iglinsky, but that's surely his chance gone now.
The Schlecks and Gilbert have caught up to Gasparotto, Van Avermaet and Jerome Pineau over the top of the climb.
Vinokourov is trying to chase back on to the main bunch, but there has been little response from Katusha and Liquigas-Cannondale to the Schleck-Gilbert move.
Rabobank are organising the pursuit behind now as Robert Gesink missed the Gilbert-Schleck move.
Gasparotto and Pineau are dropped on a rise as they struggle to keep pace with the Schlecks and Gilbert, although Van Avermaet is doing very well to hang in there.
Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) are gone clear of the whittled down peloton, as they try to hunt down the four up front.
Anton and Kolobnev are brought back, as Astana take up the chase, but surely it's too late to bring back the quartet in front ahead of the Cote de Saint-Nicolas.
It will be a thrilling finish if these four stay clear. One would imagine that the Schlecks will have to try and shake off Gilbert before the finish in Ans. In theory, Van Avermaet is the fastest man here, but one would wonder how much he has left in his legs after his long spell on the front.
Shades of Liege-Bastogne-Liege 1997, when Michele Bartoli was left out front with ONCE duo Alex Zulle and Laurent Jalabert. The Italian won after "working as hard as them, but no harder."
Gilbert is following that advice. He is taking his turns on the front, but is careful to make sure that the Schleck brothers do their full share. Van Avermaet hangs on for grim death.
40 seconds to the peloton with 10km to go.
It's Philippe Gilbert against the Schlecks, surely one of that three will come out on top, unless Van Avermaet can spring a huge surprise.
The scene is set for a shoot-out on the Saint-Nicholas. While Gilbert should be quicker on the Cote de Ans than the Schlecks, he might be tempted to try and get clear on the Cote de Saint-Nicholas, rather than risk being outmanoeuvred in the sprint.
On the approach to Saint-Nicholas, the Schlecks continue to consult with one another. We can expect a one-two on the climb, but the question is, who will go first?
Andy Schleck leads on the false flat at the start of the climb. Gilbert sits between the brothers, with Van Avermaet at the back.
The pace is not that high on the climb, it's all very tentative. Andy Schleck looks back at Gilbert, and the Belgian goes to the front, but he is not accelerating.
Andy Schleck goes to the front again and Van Avermaet is dropped, but there has been no brutal acceleration, and the peloton is now just 24 seconds down.
Gilbert ups the pace at the head of the bunch and then he attacks from the front! Incredible!
Andy Schleck cracks on Saint-Nicholas, but Frank manages to scramble back on to Gilbert's wheel over the top.
One down for Gilbert, one to go, as they begin the descent.
Andy Schleck has descended well, however, and made his way back up to Gilbert and his brother.
Gilbert may rue not attacking sooner. It was surprising he didn't put his head down on the descent himself and try and ensure Andy didn't get back on.
Van Avermaet continues to chase alone.
A tense, tense finale here. The Schlecks and Gilbert are sizing one another up, but they certainly aren't riding flat out.
A dangerous chase group has developed behind, with Nibali and Kreuziger. They've blown past Van Avermaet, but it's surely too late.
Gilbert is sandwiched between the Schleck brothers. If he rides on the front, he leaves himself open to an attack, and if he rides at the back, one or other of the brothers could let a gap develop.
Inside the final kilometre. Bizarrely, the Schlecks have made no attempt to attack Gilbert.
Andy Schleck leads, Gilbert second wheel, with Frank lined up behind.
Gilbert looking very comfortable.
Andy Schleck leads into the finishing straight.
And Gilbert comes around and wins with ease!
Bizarre tactics from the Schleck, they all but carried Gilbert to the line. Perhaps it's merely a testament to te Belgian's strength.
Frank Schleck was second in the sprint, but neither brother came close to matching Gilbert.
Kreuziger came across the line in 4th ahead of Rigoberto Uran (Sky), Van Avermaet and Nibali.
Not only has Gilbert completed the Ardennes hat-trick of Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, he has taken an unprecedented treble, if we factor in his Fleche Brabanconne win from last week.
Four races, four wins, but Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the race that Gilbert wanted above all others.
One would have expected a little more from the Schlecks in the finale, particularly after Andy managed to make it back on after being dropped on the Saint-Nicholas, but Gilbert gave the impression that he could have responded to every move today.
1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
2 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
3 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
4 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Pro Team Astana
5 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling
6 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard
7 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
8 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
9 Björn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
10 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
Thanks for joining us for live coverage of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for a full report, results, pictures and all the news and reactions from Ans, as Philippe Gilbert crowned his perfect spring.