Unheralded Kazakhstani Maxim Iglinskiy stunned a host of favorites to claim the biggest win of his career at a rain-hit Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday.
Italian Vincenzo Nibali, who looked to have secured his maiden victory in cycling’s oldest one-day classic, until Iglinskiy overtook him on the 11th and last climb of the 257.5km epic, finished runner-up at 21sec.
It was Astana’s second major win inside a week, after Enrico Gasparotto’s victory at the Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands.
Italian Gasparotto completed the podium after beating Frenchman Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Ireland’s Dan Martin (Garmin) to third place.
Astana team manager Guido Bontempi admitted Gasparotto had been their main hope for victory in the third of the Ardennes Classics races.
However, Iglinskiy forged his own winning chance when he dropped one race favorite, Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez, on the climb to Saint Nicolas before chasing down a tiring Nibali and overtaking him with 1.1km to race.
“It is the biggest win of my career,” said the 31-year-old Kazakh, who revealed he had been spurned on to try his luck by former two-time winner, compatriot Alexandre Vinokourov.
Defending champion Philippe Gilbert of BMC was among several big contenders who failed to shine on a day marked by intermittent rain showers and cold temperatures.
The Belgian, who had signaled his ambitions by finishing third behind Katusha team leader Rodriguez at the Fleche-Wallonne semi-classic midweek, was left trailing when Iglinskiy and Rodriguez attacked in a bid to reel in Nibali.
The Schleck brothers Frank and Andy, who finished second and third respectively behind Gilbert last year, also flattered to deceive.
Frank was by far the better of the pair, but the Luxemburger failed to contend the finale after being dropped on the Redoute climb, the third last in the race where the summit was 34.5km from the finish.
Schleck finished among a 20-strong group just behind Gilbert at 2:11.
Former Tour of Spain champion Nibali appeared to have victory within his grasp when he left Gilbert and several other fellow favorites behind at the top of La Roche aux Faucons climb, with 19.5km to race.
Despite building a lead of over 20 seconds on the chasers, his legs eventually gave way on the last climb to the finish in Ans.
“Iglinskiy is a very good rider, but I would have preferred to have been beaten by Gilbert,” he said.
Gilbert, who last year won all three Ardennes Classics, was quick to concede defeat.
First held in 1892, Liege--Bastogne-Liege is known as the Doyenne because it is the oldest existing one-day race on the calendar.