Simon Gerrans became the first Australian to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday.
The Orica-GreenEdge rider timed his attack to perfection on the tough uphill finish in Ans at the end of 263km of racing.
“It’s an incredible victory, it’s a dream come true to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege,” the 33-year-old said. “It unfolded perfectly with me in the final. Everybody was really tight coming into the finish and I was perfectly placed to finish it.”
Spanish Fleche Wallonne winner Alejandro Valverde took second, with Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski coming home third in the 100th edition of one of the five “Monuments” of cycling.
Before the race, 2012 Milan-SanRemo winner Gerrans admitted he was not as well suited to La Doyenne (the oldest race) as he was to the Amstel Gold Race.
Gerrans’ best previous result had been a sixth place finish in 2009, whereas he had three times finished third in the Amstel, but while all his major rivals raced at Fleche on Wednesday, Gerrans was resting and it paid off.
“It’s incredible, I don’t know what I feel right now,” he said. “It’s a really tough race at the end, so thanks to my team. They got me to the final. I didn’t have good legs, but I kept going and thanks to the team I could win. You never know in a final like this, the last climb is very tough. I did my best to get to the final bend with the leader.”
In a thrilling finale pure climbers Julian Arredondo and Domenico Pozzovivo attacked on the Roche-aux-Faucons climb just over 20km from home.
They held their lead for almost 10km before a determined, but a reduced peloton of about 30 to 35 riders caught them.
Italian Pozzovivo attacked again on the final categorized climb, the Cote Saint-Nicolas, alongside compatriot Gianpaolo Caruso.
They gained a gap of 12 seconds, before the attacks for home behind them started to eat into their lead on the final uncategorized ramp.
Last year’s winner Dan Martin made a break inside the final kilometer and caught Pozzovivo as Caruso kicked again, but on the final tight left-hand bend, Irishman Martin crashed leaving Caruso out in front, but with three chasers closing quickly.
Valverde brought Gerrans and Kwiatkowski up to Caruso’s wheel with just a couple of hundred meters left, but at that point the Australian knew he had the best sprint finish.
“I was confident I could beat these guys in a small sprint, but after 263km of racing anything’s possible, so I just gave it my maximum,” Gerrans said.
Valverde’s second place completed a highly impressive Ardennes campaign for the Movistar team leader, who was also fourth in the Amstel.
“I feel very happy, it’s been a very good week for me and the team,” Valverde, 34, said. “With a bit more luck at Amstel I could have been on the podium and then I would’ve been on the podium in all three [Ardennes Classics], but I still think that with fourth, first and second, it’s a good return. Now it’s time for some rest and then to prepare for the Tour [de France].”
Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Kwiatkowski was just as consistent having finished fifth in the Amstel and third in the Fleche.
“Right now I have a lot of hope for the future with what I did this last week,” said the 23-year-old Pole, who had top-five finishes in the Amstel and Fleche last year before a poor Liege. “It’s something special. I was aiming to be in really good shape for the Ardennes and I did it, especially today. To be on the podium at the end of Liege-Bastogne-Liege is really something special and I’m very happy.”