Belgian favourite Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) managed to stay with the other Liège-Bastogne-Liège contenders all the way to the foot of the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, but in the race’s finale, the effects of his crash at Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne proved too much for the 2011 winner to handle.
“I got as far as Saint-Nicolas, but at that point it all got too hard,” Gilbert told reporters afterwards. “I’ve had four days where I haven’t been sleeping well or recovering well and this was as good as it could get.”
Tenth in Amstel Gold Race after his trademark late searing attack on the Cauberg failed to pay off and then forced to abandon in Flèche Wallonne after he took a bad mauling in a late crash, Gilbert finally crossed the line in Ans in 36th place, mud-spattered and visibly tired.
For the record, it was Gilbert’s worst Liege result since 2008 – coincidentally, the year of Valverde’s previous win – when he finished 92nd.
But in that edition of La Doyenne, having taken third in Milan-San Remo earlier in the spring, Gilbert was a real factor, attacking on the descent of the Col de Rosier and riding solo over La Redoute at the head of the race. This time, though, his injuries meant that, for the most part, Gilbert was following wheels at best.
“It was a very fast race, and personally I was not starting in the best condition because of the crash, I wasn’t at 100 percent,” Gilbert said afterwards. “I did my best and tried to hold on for as long as possible. I could hang on alright, and it was ok up until Saint-Nicolas, because really nothing much happened up until then.”
“But at the bottom of Saint-Nicolas I paid for everything. It’s disappointing because I was good before this week and then I lost everything because of this crash. That’s sport, but it’s still disappointing.” The regrets, Gilbert said, “was that I lost my chance to do well today on Wednesday.”
Gilbert said his teammates and squad had attempted to keep his motivation high throughout the race, but that at the crunch moment, he did not have the legs to respond. “I always believed that I could do it, even with these problems, but at this level you pay cash for everything negative you have.”
The Belgian will now ease back for a few days, before starting to build up for his next race, the Giro d’Italia, where he rides for the first time since 2009, when he won on the penultimate day in Anagni.