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Poels wins Liege-Bastogne-Liege

The snow fell heavily in the Ardennes at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, invoking memories of Bernaud Hinault’s iconic 1980 victory and even causing the race to be re-routed, but Wout Poels rode through the blizzard to put an end to Team Sky’s long wait for a Monument victory.

The Dutchman followed Michael Albasini’s (Orica-GreenEdge) move up the Côte de la Rue Naniot, the new steep cobbled climb introduced to shake up the race’s finale, and held him off in the sprint. Former world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) finished a close third having been part of the move, while Samuel Sanchez (BMC), the fourth member of the group, was unable to produce a sprint and finished a distant fourth.

"I still can't believe it," said Poels, who became only the fifth Dutchman to win La Doyenne, and the first since Adri Van Der Poel 28 years ago. "The conditions were really difficult today and at the end we were all really tired."

For all the talk of Alejandro Valverde’s overwhelming favourite status, and for all the work his Movistar teammates subjected themselves to on the front of the bunch, the defending champion couldn’t manage to make the top 10. It was a similar story for Etixx-QuickStep; they had strength in numbers and drove a fierce pace going into the final 25km, but last year’s runner up and Julian Alaphilippe finished in the main group with Valverde, while 2013 winner Dan Martin struggled on the final climb and ended up nearly two minutes down.

It was a trying day for the riders, who repeatedly encountered mini snow storms all along the route as the weather forecasts proved true to their word. The situation was at its worst halfway along the trip out from Liège to Bastogne, with many teams posting photos of the roads covered in a blanket of snow as their car made their way out to the feed zone. An hour into the race, the organisers made the decision to alter the route and took riders off the planned course after 45 kilometres, eventually linking back up with it at kilometre 75. Given that they were back on course ahead of the first of the day’s 10 climbs, the change did little to shape the complexion of the race, and only 5km were lost from the total distance, which became 248km.

A break of eight enjoyed a few hours out front, while a fairly contained race was ridden back in the bunch. There were eight climbs in the last 80km but it wasn’t until after the fourth one, the famous Côte de La Redoute, had been crested that the race was really ignited.

The utterly miserable conditions took their toll and while crashes took out Tony Gallopin and Rafal Majka, it was largely down to who kept themselves warm, well fed, and most comfortable. Poels’ relatively slow sprint and the fact that Albasini was unable to get near to coming round him demonstrated how exacting the day had been.

How it unfolded

The leaden drops of rain that fell as the peloton gathered at the Place Saint-Lambert for the start of Liège-Bastogne-Liège prefigured what they would face on the long road south. Word had already reached Liege of early morning snowfall in the Ardennes, and shortly after rolling out of the City of the Prince-Bishops, it was announced that the race would be re-routed to avoid the most treacherous roads ahead of the day’s first climb, the Côte de la Roche-en-Ardenne, knocking five kilometres off the overall distance.

By that point, the day’s early break had established itself, with Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff), Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Alessandro De Marchi (BMC) and Jeremy Roy (FDJ) slipping off the front inside the opening 15 kilometres of racing. The seven combined well together to cover 42 kilometres in the first hour and build up a lead of 8:45 over a main peloton where most of the contenders were all but unrecognisable beneath capes, snoods and jackets.

Etixx-QuickStep was the first team to take matters in hand at the head of the bunch, working to stabilise the break’s advantage, and they were later joined on the front by Alejandro Valverde’s Movistar guard. Their combined efforts chipped away at the break’s lead over the Saint-Roch – the roadsides on the climb lighter of Luxembourg fans than during the Schleck brothers’ heyday – and by the Côte de Wanne with 84 kilometres remaining, the gap was less unwieldy 4 minutes.

The only real frisson on the Haut-Levée was a banal crash involving Chris Froome, but the Sky rider unclipped before falling into the verge and quickly re-joined the peloton. On reaching the second feed at Stavelot shortly afterwards, however, the race was again buffeted by driving snow. Though, mercifully, it was not sticking to the ground, the headwind and grim conditions underlined that this was to be a war of attrition.

Movistar’s pace-making brought the leaders back to within two minutes on the Col du Rosier, where the snow was replaced by steady rain and where Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) decided to counter-attack from the peloton, and he was still giving chase alone over the Col du Rosier. At the front, meanwhile, De Marchi fragmented the unity of the leading group by attacking near the summit. 48.5 kilometres from home, De Marchi, De Gendt and Edet had a lead of 1:50 over the peloton.

The endgame

Race organisers introduced the Rue Naniot, a 600-metre cobbled climb with an average gradient of 11% in a bid to discourage riders from playing a waiting game, and it duly produced the race-winning attack. There was, however, the suggestion that its presence softened the impact of the previous climbs, with the favourites riding conservatively and sending teammates up the road instead.

There was next to no movement in the bunch on the Côte de La Redoute, once a key flashpoint of the race, but the race was ignited on the 15km run to the Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons, the third last climb. Andriy Grivko (Astana) went on the attack while Etixx-QuickStep drove a fearsome pace on the downhill that saw Edet and De Marchi, the last remnants of the breakaway, swallowed up.

Carlos Betancur, amazingly opting for bare legs over leg warmers, then attacked on the approach to the Côte de Saint-Nicholas, before Grivko tried his luck again and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) also got involved. When they hit the climb, Betancur made another move and the pace was such that Vincenzo Nibali and Simon Gerrans were both dropped.

Bardet attacked over the top of the climb, and then Diego Rosa and Ilnur Zakarin went on the offensive, but a group of around 25 riders would be together jotling for position as they hit the Rue Naniot. About halfway up the 600-metre climb, Albasini surged and the steep gradients took their toll, with gaps appearing among the main group.

Valverde was left in the middle of the group as Sanchez, Costa and Poels proved the only ones who could stay on terms with Albasini. With most riders shorn of teammates, a concerted chase never materialised and, as the road kicked up again into Ans, it became clear the group of four had done enough to earn the right to fight for the victory.

Poels was the first to go, and he led into the final left-hand bend. Albasini looked in a good position on the Dutchman’s wheel but Poels hung on impressively to seal the biggest win of his career.

Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Wouter Poels (Ned) Team Sky6:24:29
2Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica-GreenEdge
3Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Por) Lampre - Merida
4Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) BMC Racing Team0:00:04
5Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Team Katusha0:00:09
6Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Alpecin0:00:11
7Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff Team0:00:12
8Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Team Katusha
9Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
10Diego Rosa (Ita) Astana Pro Team
11Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team
12Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Wanty - Groupe Gobert
13Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
14Michael Valgren (Den) Tinkoff Team
15Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Argon 18
16Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
17Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing Team
18Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
19Stephen Cummings (GBr) Dimension Data
20Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Team Sky
21Alex Howes (USA) Cannondale Pro Cycling
22Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal
23Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx - Quick-Step
24Manuele Mori (Ita) Lampre - Merida0:00:40
25Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team
26Sam Oomen (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin
27Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Astana Pro Team
28Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Movistar Team
29Jan Bakelants (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale0:00:47
30Jon Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Movistar Team0:01:18
31Louis Meintjes (RSA) Lampre - Merida0:01:29
32Huub Duyn (Ned) Roompot - Oranje Peloton
33Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
34Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
35Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team
36Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky
37Lawson Craddock (USA) Cannondale Pro Cycling0:01:41
38Toms Skujins (Lat) Cannondale Pro Cycling0:01:51
39Pieter Serry (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step0:01:53
40Floris De Tier (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise
41Stefan Denifl (Aut) IAM Cycling
42Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Dimension Data
43Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Tinkoff Team0:01:56
44Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky
45Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
46Enrico Battaglin (Ita) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
47Daniel Martin (Irl) Etixx - Quick-Step
48Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal
49Maurits Lammertink (Ned) Roompot - Oranje Peloton
50Carlos Alberto Betancur Gomez (Col) Movistar Team0:02:01
51Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team0:02:21
52Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto Soudal
53Merhawi Kudus Ghebremedhin (Eri) Dimension Data0:02:22
54Luis Angel Mate Mardones (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:02:35
55Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre - Merida0:02:40
56Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge0:02:49
57Anthony Roux (Fra) FDJ0:02:51
58David De La Cruz Melgarejo (Spa) Etixx - Quick-Step
59Gaetan Bille (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert
60Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Trek-Segafredo0:03:00
61Laurens De Plus (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step0:03:11
62Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:03:39
63Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale0:04:02
64Pieter Weening (Ned) Roompot - Oranje Peloton0:04:17
65Loic Vliegen (Bel) BMC Racing Team0:04:33
66Steve Morabito (Swi) FDJ
67Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Orica-GreenEdge
68Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team
69Sebastian Henao Gomez (Col) Team Sky0:04:38
70Jan Polanc (Slo) Lampre - Merida0:05:27
71Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Argon 18
72Odd Christian Eiking (Nor) FDJ
73Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Fortuneo - Vital Concept
74Laurent Pichon (Fra) FDJ
75Benoît Vaugrenard (Fra) FDJ
76Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept
77Paul Martens (Ger) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
78Robert Gesink (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
79Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal
80Bertjan Lindeman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
81Yury Trofimov (Rus) Tinkoff Team
82Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky
83Michal Golas (Pol) Team Sky
84Cyril Gautier (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
85Peter Stetina (USA) Trek-Segafredo
86José Joao Pimenta Costa Mendes (Por) Bora-Argon 18
87Preben Van Hecke (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise
88Florian Vachon (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept
89Romain Sicard (Fra) Direct Energie0:05:47
90Rudy Molard (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
91Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team
92Ivan Rovny (Rus) Tinkoff Team
93Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr) Dimension Data
94Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Giant-Alpecin0:06:11
95Matteo Bono (Ita) Lampre - Merida0:06:49
96Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Team Katusha0:06:50
97Christian Meier (Can) Orica-GreenEdge0:07:18
98Ben Hermans (Bel) BMC Racing Team
99Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension Data0:07:24
100Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise
101Alberto Losada Alguacil (Spa) Team Katusha
102Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:07:49
103Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale
104Antwan Tolhoek (Ned) Roompot - Oranje Peloton0:08:01
105Maxime Bouet (Fra) Etixx - Quick-Step0:08:17
106Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Direct Energie0:08:19
107Bjorn Thurau (Ger) Wanty - Groupe Gobert0:08:31
108Pawel Poljanski (Pol) Tinkoff Team0:08:42
109Anthony Delaplace (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept0:09:07
110Bartosz Huzarski (Pol) Bora-Argon 180:09:31
111Eliot Lietaer (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise0:10:31
112Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky
113Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff Team
114Yoann Bagot (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
115Fredrik Ludvigsson (Swe) Team Giant-Alpecin
116Lawrence Warbasse (USA) IAM Cycling
117Joseph Rosskopf (USA) BMC Racing Team
118Rory Sutherland (Aus) Movistar Team
119Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:11:35
120Guillaume Martin (Fra) Wanty - Groupe Gobert
121Nathan Brown (USA) Cannondale Pro Cycling0:11:47
122Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team Giant-Alpecin0:12:25
123Silvan Dillier (Swi) BMC Racing Team0:12:48
124Julien Vermote (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step
125Ruben Fernandez (Spa) Movistar Team
126Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) BMC Racing Team0:12:53
127Anthony Turgis (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:12:56
128Julien Simon (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
129Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor) IAM Cycling
130Reinier Honig (Ned) Roompot - Oranje Peloton0:13:27
131Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal0:13:36
132Laurent Didier (Lux) Trek-Segafredo
133Brice Feillu (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept0:14:06
134Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Trek-Segafredo
135Otto Vergaerde (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise
136Simon Clarke (Aus) Cannondale Pro Cycling
137Chad Haga (USA) Team Giant-Alpecin
138Tim Declercq (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise
139Sindre Skjoestad Lunke (Nor) Team Giant-Alpecin
140Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) Dimension Data
141Mathew Hayman (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
142Oliver Zaugg (Swi) IAM Cycling
143Paul Voss (Ger) Bora-Argon 18
144Angel Vicioso Arcos (Spa) Team Katusha
145Cesare Benedetti (Ita) Bora-Argon 18
146Sergey Lagutin (Rus) Team Katusha
147Koen Bouwman (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
148Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Roompot - Oranje Peloton