Carlos Betancur attacks twice into late phase, Valverde finishes 16th on final classic of the spring season, one of the hardest in recent years due to snowy conditions
Suffering did not bring a victory this time, but it did bring respect to the whole Movistar Team. Today's Liége-Bastogne-Liège (248km between the Place Saint-Lambert and Ans' Rue Jean Jaurès) will go into the history books as a show of pain, commitment and courage from the whole peloton. Temperatures below zero, rain, snow, tons of foul weather clothes that weren't useful when sun went out but were more than needed just minutes later, when snow hit back into the 'Hell of the Ardennes'. The Blues, which brought the same eight riders leading up to Alejandro Valverde's success in Flèche Wallonne, pulled at the front of the bunch for almost 150km and proved again how consistent and brilliant his elements are on the very top of the sport.
The squad directed by José Luis Arrieta –Dani Moreno, Carlos Betancur, Imanol Erviti, Rubén Fernández, Giovanni Visconti, Rory Sutherland and Ion Izagirre-, took their hearts out for team leader Alejandro Valverde, seeking for the Murcian marvel's fourth win in the 'Doyenne'. The Spanish road race champion warned beforehand this race would be way different under the rain, with his goals inevitably leaning towards a Giro d'Italia just two weeks ago. Still, the telephone squad's hard job brought the spectacle the longest-standing Monument in the calendar deserved. An exhibition crowned by Colombia's Carlos Betancur, who launched an attack with 18km to go and another one into the Côte de Saint-Nicolas.
After that penultimate climb followed the new, grueling Côte de la Rue Naniot -600m at 10.5% average gradient, on cobblestones-, just 2.3km from the finish. Into the closing slopes, a quartet composed by Poels (SKY), Albasini (OGE), Costa (LAM) and Sánchez (BMC) made a split impossible to bridge for the pursuit. Dutchman Wout Poels prevailed as Valverde crossed the line in 16th spot.
Alejandro Valverde: “I want to thank the whole team – they were sensational all day, and it has more importance considering today's conditions. Hailstorm at times, lots of snow, rain, temperatures below zero… it was really difficult. I ended the race with a strange feeling, yet still a good one because I've seen again that my legs feelt good leading up to the Giro.
"It was sad today because I thought that the cobblestones wouldn't be decisive, and afterwards, it was too late to get back into the winning sprint. And, well, conditions were probably harder than in Castilla y León, but I didn't struggle as much as I did last week. Confidence on my legs before the Giro remains there after Wednesday; now we'll take some days' rest and start thinking about the big challenge now ahead."