Liege-Bastogne-Liege: Dan Martin becomes only second Irish winner
By Matt Westby. Last Updated: 23/04/13 12:14pm
Dan Martin claimed only the third Irish win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege
Dan Martin became only the second Irish winner of the one-day classic Liege-Bastogne-Liege after producing a devastating final kilometre to beat Joaquim Rodriguez.
The 26-year-old reeled in a late attack from his Spanish counterpart on the final climb of the day, before pulling clear with a stinging burst of his own on the flat run to the finish to seal the biggest victory of his career.
It is only the third time an Irishman has won the race in its 111-year history, after Sean Kelly's triumphs in 1984 and 1989, and continues what has so far been a breakthrough season for Martin following his victory at March's Volta a Catalunya.
"I can't believe it, I am really in shock," Martin said. "I have never seen the team ride so strong - they kept me protected all day. It felt like one of the easiest races I have ever done. It really is incredible, I am so happy."
Martin owed a huge debt of gratitude to his Garmin-Sharp team-mate Ryder Hesjedal, who played a vital role in shepherding him to the final kilometre after earlier seeing his own solo bid for glory fall short.
Having been caught 4.5km from the line by five men - Rodriguez, Martin, Alejandro Valverde, Michele Scarponi and Carlos Betancur - the Canadian drove the group on towards the finish line at a fierce pace, allowing Martin to save his energy by sitting at the back.
Rodriguez jumped ahead of Hesjedal on the final climb into Ans, 1.2km out, and quickly opened up a healthy 50m advantage, but Martin still had his hand to play.
He waited until they had passed under the 1km-to-go banner before launching a stunning counter, first catching Rodriguez with 750m to go and then driving away from him 250m from the line.
The tiring Spaniard hung on to claim second, with compatriot Alejandro Valverde outsprinting his fellow escapees to take the final place on the podium.
Britain's highest finisher was Chris Froome, who came 36th after sacrificing his own chances to support his Colombian Team Sky team-mate Sergio Henao, who crossed the line 16th.
Last of the spring Classics
Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the last of the spring Classics and the third of three Ardennes Classics. This year's edition took place over 257.5km and 11 categorised climbs.
The decisive racing began 18km from home, when Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) splintered the front of the peloton by attacking on the Cote de Colonster, dragging along six other riders, including Hesjedal.
With the group labouring, the 2012 Giro d'Italia opted to attack 16km out and quickly opened up a 20-second gap.
His chances of riding solo to the line were effectively ended, however, on the final categorised climb, the Cote de Saint-Nicolas, just outside Liege, when Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) surged ahead of the peloton and was swiftly followed by Rodriguez (Katusha), Valverde (Movistar), Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) and Martin.
But Hesjedal then initiated Garmin-Sharp's Plan B and set about teeing Martin up for a famous win.
1 Dan Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp, 6:38.07
2 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha, +3secs
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar, +9
4 Carlos Betancur (Col) Ag2r-La Mondiale, same time
5 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida, st
6 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana, +18
7 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC, st
8 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Sharp, st
9 Rui Costa (Por) Movistar, st
10 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEDGE
36 Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky, +1:14