Danilo Di Luca took an impressive lone win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday after a powerful double attack on the final climb just before the finish. The Liquigas rider took off four kilometres from the line with CSC’s Frank Schleck, he then dropped Schleck just before the final corner and then won the biggest classics of his career by a three seconds.
Last year’s winner, Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d?Epargne) was second, with Schleck taking third after the Spaniard caught him in the final metres of the climb. World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) finished fourth at six seconds after leading the chase of Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), who had made a strong attack on the key San Nicolas climb.
After Schumacher was caught and a brief moment of hesitation, Di Luca shot out of the peloton with Schleck on his wheel over the summit of San Nicolas. Never more than 10 seconds ahead of a chasing group, the two kept
going and then when Valverde tried to get across in the final kilometre, Di Luca attacked again to give him his first victory in cycling?s oldest one-day classic.
The 31 year-old from the central Adriatic coastal region of Italy, won Amstel Gold and Fleche-Wallonne in 2005 and so has now completed his collection of Ardennes classics.
?I was absolutely exhausted and was suffering from cramps but the important thing is that I managed win,? he said.
?This is the hardest classic in the world but I felt that it was my day and knew that I couldn?t waste it. I have to thank my team mates that worked hard for me from the first to the last kilometre of the race.?
?This is a very important win for me coming just before the Giro. To win here you have to have great legs and I?m in great shape. Now I’ll see what I can do in the Giro. Hopefully I can be in the action like in 2005.?
VALVERDE COMPLAINS, SCHLECK HAPPY
Alejandro Valverde was disappointed to miss out on a second consecutive win but headed back to Spain to begin preparing for the Tour de France with a week of impressive results.
?I felt throughout the day and on the Côte of Saint-Nicolas I was really good. When Di Luca and Schleck attacked, the other teams forced me to do all the chasing but I could not do the entire job alone and bring everybody in front,? he said.
?When I realized that the pace was not sufficiently high I attacked in the last kilometre to try to catch them alone. I finished very fast but not enough to catch Di Luca.?
Frank Schleck was happy with third place after revealing he rode with a fractured vertebrae. The lanky Luxembourg rider crashed heavily in the Amstel Gold Race last Sunday and after suffering with dumbness in his arm while training, x-rays on Saturday confirmed the vertebrae. He will almost certainly miss this week?s Tour de Romandie stage race.
?Despite having a fracture I wanted to ride because I?ve sacrificed a lot for this race,? he said.
?I think I attacked at a good moment but Di Luca was stronger than me on the Cote d?Ans. I?m happy with third place because it?s one of the hardest races in the world. I?d love to win one day.?
Paul Manning and Ed Clancy both rode for Lankbouwkrediet but were amongst the 85 riders who did not finish the 260km race.
1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 6-37-24 (39.56 km/h)
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0.03
3 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team CSC
4 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quickstep – Innergetic 0.06
5 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
6 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank 0.07
7 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre – Fondital 0.09
8 Matthias Kessler (Ger) Astana
9 Juan Jose Cobo (Spa) Saunier Duval – Prodir
10 Kim Kirchen (Lux) T-Mobile Team all same time
1 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 157 points
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 107
3 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas 100
4 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank 82
5 Stuart O’Grady (Aus) Team CSC 79
6 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner 75
7 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team CSC 63
8 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Saunier Duval 62
9 Alberto Contador (Spa) Discovery Channel 58
10 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quickstep 57