Sunday, 22 April 2012


Iglinsky takes the most unexpected
Classics win of the season so far
Maxim Iglinsky (Astana) took a superb victory in the final seconds at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, gaining the upper hand over Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) with a combination of sheer power and a cool head after a hard-fought battle up and over some of the steepest hills in the Ardennes.

(Videos at the foot of the page)

Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel Euskadi), tenth last year and a favourite this time around after his stunning performance in the Tour of the Basque Country got into difficulties when his Orbea let him down on the Stockeau and while successful in getting back to the front, doing so used up a lot of energy as the race entered its final part. A breakaway group of eight - Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Vasil Kiryienka (Movistar) and David Le Lay (Saur-Sojasun), Dario Cataldo (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), and Kevin Ista (Accent Jobs-Veranda's Willems), Reinier Honig (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony), Gregory Habeaux ( Accent Jobs-Veranda's Willems ) and Alessandro Bazzana (Type 1-Sanofi) - were building up a lead by this time, the pace proving too much as they approached Theux and suddenly found themselves down to five men.

However, at no point were they permitted to form a gap that might be described as dangerous - a selection of fast riders hovered around the front of a pack of 40 men and kept things ticking over far to quickly for that. Philippe Gilbert (BMC) was a notable face among them, never far from pole position and evidently now well on his way back to good form after a slow start to the season. With 25km to go, their lead was down to 37" and looked doomed to failure, while a second group trailing Gilbert's pack was gradually making up the difference and bringing with it several riders in with a good chance of shaking things up on the last climbs, among them Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan).

By the time they reached the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons, the break had only 14" and the hill looked as though it might once again prove decisive with its average gradient of around 9.9%. Rodriguez (Katusha)  experienced some difficulty on the way up, dropping back from the front of the group, then so too did Sanchez - an unexpected sight as many believed he'd be out to reach the summit fast and then use his legendary descending abilities to get into a good place for the end. Nibali was first up and cruised over the summit without challenge, then mounted a solo attack with 18.5km still to go and rapidly gained 22". A brave and, in all likelihood, ultimately doomed effort with Côte de Saint-Nicolas and the tricky little climb in the last couple of kilometres to Ans, one would have thought, but guaranteed to bring glory if it worked, much like Tom Boonen's already-legendary win at Paris-Roubaix this year. And, perhaps more importantly, beautiful to watch.

It looked like it was in the bag for
Gilbert, Gasparotto (Astana), Iglinsky, Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Rodriguez, Kiserlovski (Astana), Mollema (Rabobank), Rolland (Europcar), Voeckler (Europcar), Scarponi (Lampre-ISD), Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), Nocentini (AG2R-La Mondiale), Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda), Martin (Garmin-Barracuda), and Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) went after him, but Nibali's attack seemed to have thrown them all into a state of confusion and there was so little organisation to their attempts that with 15km to go the race looked briefly to be a done deal. Perhaps there were simply too many of them - once the chasers had been whittled down to a more manageable seven, they fell into shape and began to work together. Then, the Italian produced a completely unexpected ace from up his sleeve - it turns out he can descend very, very well indeed; sufficiently so to increase his lead to 40" as he neared the final 10km. That threw the chasers into a panic once again so that before too long only Iglinsky was concentrating on the task in hand.

Iglinsky kept up the pressure, clawing his way up to the leader and getting to within 15" as they passed Liège stadium, Nibali looking quite surprised to see him there as they entered the last 3km - and then, incredibly, Iglinsky dropped him as they passed under the 1km banner! Precisely where he found the power after 256.5km is a mystery, but find it he did - and he powered up the last climb to take a 21" advantage and what must be the most unexpected victory of the 2012 Classics so far.
  1.  Maxim Iglinskiy Astana 6h43'52"
  2.  Vincenzo Nibali Liquigas-Cannondale +21"
  3.  Enrico Gasparotto Astana +36"
  4.  Thomas Voeckler Europcar ST
  5.  Daniel Martin Garmin-Barracuda ST
  6.  Bauke Mollema Rabobank ST
  7.  Samuel Sanchez Euskaltel-Euskadi ST
  8.  Michele Scarponi Lampre-ISD ST
  9.  Ryder Hesjedal Garmin-Barracuda ST
  10.  Jelle Vanendert Lotto-Belisol ST
(Full results)

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