What’s there to say? Philippe Gilbert was the king of this year’s late season Ardenne Classics. With great form, good tactics, a supportive team, and, of course, a little bit of luck, Gilbert was able to take 4 wins in a row. Having won Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallone and now Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Gilbert has done what no other racer has done and won all four in a single season.
Calm start, calm finish
Compared the previous Classics of the season, LBL was relatively calm. There was no bunch sprint, no last minute attacks, no successful breakaways. But even the calmer races still make for an exciting time. A ten man breakaway got away within the first 12km – Sébastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet), Jesus Herrada Lopez (Movistar), David Le Lay ( AG2R), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Thomas De Gendt (Vancansoleil), Tony Gallopin (Cofidis), Mickaël Delage (Française des Jeux), Yannick Talabadon (Saur-Sojasun), Mathias Frank (BMC). The break was never allowed much leeway, unlike Flèche Wallonne, where the break had 17 minutes at one point. OmegaPharma-Lotto and Leopard Trek worked to keep the break close, which never got more than four minutes.
On the Côte de la Haute-Levée, a counter move by nine riders, including Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step), Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale), Laurens Ten Dam, Juan Manuel Garate (both Rabobank), Blel Kadri (AG2R), Kanstantsin Siutsou (HTC-Highroad), and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) went up the road and with 63km to go, they caught up with the original break. In spite of the large group up the road, the group was allowed a gap of 1:43.
Not until la Redoute climb was the gap reduced through Leopard Trek’s hard work. By the top of the climb, only seven riders remained in the break and they had only 45 seconds. Gasparotto, Pineau, Van Avermaet, Garate, Ten Dam, Kadri and Siutsou were alone in the front now, and were allowed to grow the gap while OmegaPharma-Lotto and Leopard Trek argued a bit over who should lead the chase.
The decisive move
With 21km to go, on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, Gasparotto and Van Avermaet took off from the lead group just as the Schleck brothers took off from the peloton, with Gilbert in tow. The Schlecks and Gilbert quickly reached the leaders, who had been joined by Pineau. Gasparotto and Pineau were not able to hang on, but Van Avermaet stuck with the three favorites as they came by.
With this move, the fate of the race was written. The peloton was only able to get within 24 seconds of the leading four and although Gilbert attacked on St Nicolas climb, dropping Van Avermaet and Andy Schleck, A. Schleck made it back to the two in front with 5 km to go. As they came up the false flat to the finish line, Gilbert put on a final burst of speed the brothers could not match and crossed the finish line to take his 4th victory in 12 days.