Saxo Bank ace Andy Schleck ended Luxembourg’s 55-year wait for victory at Liege-Bastogne-Liege by coasting to a memorable win in cycling’s oldest one-day classic in Ans, Belgium, on Sunday.
The 23-year-old fulfilled his pre-race hopes by crossing the finish line of the 261km epic alone in 6 hours, 34minutes and 32 seconds to become the first Luxemburger since Marcel Ernzer in 1954 to claim victory in “La Doyenne.”
Coming in second, 1 minute, 17 seconds in arrears, was Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez of Caisse d’Epargne, with Italian Davide Rebellin, the winner in 2004, pipping local rider Philippe Gilbert to third.
Considered a sure-fire future winner of the Tour de France, Schleck launched a decisive attack near the bottom of the Roche aux Faucons, a climb 20km from the finish that organizers introduced last year when Alejandro Valverde of Spain won the race.
After quickly closing a small gap to interim race leader Gilbert, Schleck went on to build a lead that, helped by a lack of cooperation in the chase group behind him, rarely came under threat.
Schleck later admitted he had come into the race still shaken up after seeing older brother and teammate Frank suffer a serious crash on April 20 at the Amstel Gold Race, which left him concussed for a few days.
But Frank displayed no signs of illness as he smiled and waved to TV cameras during his role in keeping a close eye on any ambitious riders who would try and attack to threaten Andy’s lead.
After his triumph, Andy was quick to pay tribute to a Saxo Bank team whose punishing tempo after a relatively easy first two hours of racing soon left many of their rivals in the red zone by the time the Roche aux Faucons appeared.
“It would be difficult to have done any better today, it’s my favorite race of the year,” said Schleck, whose father Jonny, a professional in the 1960s, finished in the top 20 of the Tour de France three times.