With one huge acceleration 500 metres from the line, Kazakhstan’s Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) notched up his second win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege in five years.
After dropping Russia’s Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) in the final kilometre, Vinokourov’s victory is the biggest since his ban for blood doping ended last July, and confirms that even at 36 years old, the Kazakh will be a force to be reckoned with in the Tour of Italy.
To make Vino’s success even more unusual is that the Astana rider recently completed the Tour of Trentin, which he won by a fraction of a second, and flew up to Liege on Friday.
Third was Spain’s Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne), who caught Cadel Evans (BMC) and Phillipe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) in the final rise towards Ans and then outsprinted them at the finish.
Vinokourov’s victory came at the end of what was – until 20 kilometres to go – an uneventful race. Eliminating the Haut Levee climb, combined with excellent weather, strong headwinds on the return and a powerful early break all conspired to keep the interest until La Redoute painfully low.
An attack by Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) on the Cote du Roche aux Faucons (just like in 2009) failed to work out but at least started to put some life into the race. Contador responded, and then on a fast downhill Vinokourov and Kolobnev chanced their arm.
The two stuck together as far as the foot of San Nicolas, the last big climb, whilst behind a chase group formed with Valverde, Gilbert and Evans. Gilbert tried and failed to open up a gap on the two other breakaways on Saint Nicolas and even looked as if he might catch the two leaders, but he ran out of gas close to the finish.
The return of Vinokourov to the highest step of the podium in Liege will almost certainly be controversial. Vino’s blood doping positive in the Tour de France led to Astana’s expulsion in 2007 and their exclusion from the 2008 race. Together with Valverde in third (you wonder what they had to talk about on the podium that made the two laugh so much) the race that looked as if it had so much to offer this year ended on a low-key note.
Britain’s top finisher was Steve Cummings (Team Sky) in 24th, who came home one minute and 22 seconds behind Vinokourov.
1. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana in 6-37-48
2. Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Katusha at 6secs
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 1-04
4. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
5. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at same time
6. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 1-07
7. Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
8. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack
9. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank
10. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at same time.
24. Steve Cummings (GB) Team Sky at 1-22
74. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 9-34
138. Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky at 17-51
Alexandre Vinokourov wins
Vinokourov wins in Liege for the second time
Liege podium (l-r): Alejandro Valverde (third), Alexandre Vinokourov (winner), Alexandr Kolobnev (second)