Simon Gerrans made history on Sunday, becoming the first Australian to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Gerrans, adds the 100th edition of La Doyenne to a resume which now includes three overall victories at the Tour Down Under, stage wins at all three Grand Tours, two days in yellow and Australia’s second victory at Milan–Sanremo. Gerrans enjoyed impeccable support from his ORICA-GreenEDGE teammates en route to his monumental win.
“I’ve had some really beautiful victories over the past couple years, but Liège is really special to me,” said Gerrans. “I’ve competed in this race every year since I turned professional. It’s a race I’ve always dreamed of winning, and I think because it’s something I’ve really worked for, it’s a fantastic feeling.”
Earlier in the week, the forecast suggested temperatures in the low teens and a high change of rain on Sunday. Come race day, the peloton set off on dry roads and under sunny skies. A breakaway of six riders defined the early action.
The peloton allowed them a long leash as they stretched out their advantage to nearly 16 minutes before the day’s first climb. When a handful of other teams took up the chase, the Australian outfit stuck to the plan, with Daryl Impey and Christain Meier flanked by Gerrans’ side. The duo were tasked with looking over Gerrans until the all-important Côte de la Redoute.
By the time the race hit the Côte de Wanne, the gap to the leaders had slipped below ten minutes. The action heated up on the Côte de Stockeu. An injection in pace saw crashes and splits in the bunch as the advantage to the breakaway continued to tumble. Beyond the Côte de la Haute-Levee, those that had lost contact would never make it back to the bunch.
Attacks began to come from the peloton with the Côte de la Vecquee fast-approaching. A nervous bunch splintered in response to the accelerations. All eight ORICA-GreenEDGE riders remained in main bunch – calm, collected and confident in their ability to carry out their tasks as assigned.
With Côte de la Redoute looming, Michael Albasini, Simon Clarke and Cameron Meyer came to fore. The trio assumed responsibility for following any dangerous moves that might eventuate. Both Albasini and Clarke found themselves in short-lived chase groups as the early breakaway fractured up the road. By the time the peloton had summated La Redoute, only two survivors of the early escape remained out front, 1’40 ahead of the peloton.
Pieter Weening and Ivan Santaromita took over when the race hit the Côte des Forges as the contenders began to throw their first punches. An attack by Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp) inspired a spirited response. Weening followed wheels to mark the move. With the Côte de Saint-Nicolas in sight, the reduced bunch regrouped.
“Just after the Forges, I was starting to suffer a little bit,” admitted Gerrans. “There was a really difficult section with La Redoute and the Forges quite close together. I actually said to my teammates over the radio that I wasn’t feeling too good at the moment, but they stuck by me, and they gave me good confidence coming into the finale. They placed me perfectly for La Rouche-aux-Facouns and Saint-Nicolas to give me every opportunity.”
ORICA-GreenEDGE drove the pace on the front heading into the final climb. Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R – La Mondiale) followed Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) up the road The duo established a slim advantage before defending champion Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) jumped across, catching the leaders on the final unclassified ascent. Martin crashed out in the final corner, as the larger-than-expected front group caught the leaders on the line. Gerrans made it look easy when he took off the bunch sprint, pumping his fists in the air as a huge grin spread across his face.
“I wasn’t expecting to see such a big group come to the finish together,” said Gerrans. “I thought the peloton would break more than it did. In fact, the hard final meant that everyone was a little more tired coming into the finish and no one had the legs to break away. My card was to wait and follow as best as I could and to try to finish it off with a small group sprint.”