Simon Gerrans is celebrating a career dream come true after becoming the first Australian to win cycling’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege title.
The 33-year-old won the 100th edition of “La Doyenne”, the longest – 263km – and hardest of the Spring Classic one-day races on Sunday.
Well assisted by his teammates in Australia’s OricaGreenEDGE outfit, Gerrans prevailed in a sprint finish from Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne race winner Alejandro Valverde of Spain with Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski third.
I’ve had some really beautiful victories over the past couple years, but Liege is really special to me,” said Gerrans.
“I’ve competed in this race every year since I turned professional. It’s a race I’ve always dreamed of winning, and I think because it’s something I’ve really worked for, it’s a fantastic feeling.”
It’s another stellar addition to Gerrans’ glittering career resume which now includes stage wins at all three grand tours – the Giro d’Italia, Tour De France and Tour of Spain – two days in the Tour de France yellow jersey, the 2012 Milan-San Remo title and three overall victories at the Tour Down Under.
Orica-GreenEDGE general manager Shayne Bannan had no doubt where the triumph rated in the team’s young but successful history.
“This is a race that has always eluded Australians,” said Bannan.
“It’s definitely the hardest one-day race in the world and the most prestigious.
“To win Liège in the 100th year as the first Australian in the first Australian team, it’s something really special.
“When I think back over the history of the team so far, I reckon this is probably our biggest victory so far.”
Team director Matt White gave his riders a detailed three-page race plan which unfolded to perfection.
“I can’t say thank you enough to my team,” said Gerrans. “They supported me all day and placed me perfectly over the final climbs. “
Before the race, Gerrans admitted he wasn’t as well suited to La Doyenne (the oldest race) as he was to the Amstel Gold Race.
His best previous result had been a sixth place in 2009, whereas he had three times finished third at Amstel.
But while all his major rivals raced at Fleche on Wednesday, Gerrans was resting and it paid off.
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 reduced peloton of around 30-35 riders caught them.
Italian Pozzovivo attacked again on the final categorised climb, the Cote Saint-Nicolas, alongside compatriot Gianpaolo Caruso.
They gained a gap of 12 seconds before the true attacks for home behind them started to eat into their lead on the final uncategorised ramp in Ans.
Last year’s winner Dan Martin made a break inside the final kilometre 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 metres left but at that point the Australian knew he had the best sprint finish.
“It unfolded perfectly. Everybody was really tight coming into the finish and I was perfectly placed to finish it.”