Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) took his fourth career victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, dedicating his win to Michele Scarponi.
The Spaniard sprinted ahead of Irishman Daniel Martin (Quick-Step Floors) to take the victory, with Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski in third. British rider Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) finished in eighth.
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Valverde’s win comes on the back of his mid-week victory in La Flèche Wallonne, and cements his standing as the leading Ardennes Classics rider in history, with no rider now having appeared on the podium more times.
Valverde emotionally dedicated the win to Scarponi, after the 37-year-old was fatally injured the previous day after colliding with a truck during a training ride.
How it happened
The day started with a tribute to Scarponi. The peloton gave a minute’s round of applause to the Italian, and his Astana team-mates led the bunch out of the start.
Once the flag had dropped, it was Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) who was the first to attack. The Belgian’s effort was short-lived, however, and after seven kilometres a new break had formed consisting of eight riders.
Mekseb Debesay (Dimension Data), Bart De Clercq (Lotto-Soudal), Aaron Gate (Aqua Blue), Fabien Grellier (Direct Energie), Tiago Machado (Katusha-Alpecin), Anthony Perez and Stéphane Rossetto (Cofidis), and Nick van der Lijke (Roompot) quickly built up a sizeable advantage.
All the while, they were chased by Olivier Pardini (WB Veranclassic), who was attempting to bridge over in a solo move. After coming tantalisingly within around 10 seconds of the leaders, Pardini’s effort started to show and he could not make the junction, dropping back to the bunch.
After 100km of the race’s 258km, the break’s advantage had stretched out to a significant 12 minutes. Back in the bunch, Movistar and Team Sky set the pace.
Debesay was the first rider to drop out of the break as they started to navigate the initial selection of the day’s 10 categorised climbs.
Moving into the race’s final 100km, the peloton started to seriously chop away at the break’s lead.
However, it wasn’t until the Côte de La Redoute that the race started to hot up. Up front, Perez attacked from the escape group, and behind, a group of seven riders broke free of the peloton, before getting caught.
This change in the status quo saw the speed of the race increase. Perez continued to forge on alone but his gap over his former breakaway companions and the bunch behind tumbled.
As Perez hit the penultimate climb of Côte de La Roche aux Faucons with 20km to go, his advantage over the bunch dipped to under two minutes. By the top, he had been joined by team-mate Rossetto but with less than a minute in hand.
BMC moved up to the front of the peloton on the climb, but it was Sergio Henao (Team Sky) who attacked, followed by Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb). Orica-Scott and Movistar led the chase.
Perez then blew after the day’s mammoth effort, leaving Rossetto up front alone with just 20 seconds over the peloton.
Roman Kreuziger (Orica-Scott) was particularly active in creating a move from the bunch, and he broke away with Damiano Caruso (BMC), Sam Oomen (Team Sunweb), Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r), Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe), Davide Villella and Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac), and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) to try and chase down Rossetto.
Having missed putting a rider in the attack, Movistar and Team Sky once again led the pursuit.
Wellens broke free from the second group, and made the junction with Rossetto on his own. Wellens forged on, with Rossetto desperately trying to cling to his back wheel with just 10 seconds between them and the bunch inside the final 10km.
Both riders were caught on the day’s final categorised climb of Côte de Saint-Nicolas, prompting Henao to launch another attack. This time, the Colombian champion was joined by Michael Albasini (Orica-Scott) before being reeled in.
Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Drapac) attacked over the top and held a 10-second gap over the reduced peloton of around 30 riders as he passed into the final 3km.
As Formolo ground out his effort on the final climb, Martin attacked and passed him but Valverde was accelerating rapidly behind. Valverde went around Martin to have enough time to raise both his hands in the air and celebrate.
Milan-San Remo winner Kwiatkowski brought in the rest of the lead group.
As well as dedicating the win to Scarponi, Valverde said that he will hand all of his prize money to the Italian’s family.
Earlier in the day, Dutch rider Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) won the women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège ahead of British team-mate Lizzie Deignan and WM3 Energie’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma.
The race closes the 2017 Ardennes Classics, with many of the riders now looking ahead to forthcoming stage races.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2017, 258km
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, in 6-24-27
2. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at same time
3. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky, at 3 secs
4. Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb
5. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida
6. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale
7. Michael Albasini (Sui) Orica-Scott, at same time
8. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 7 secs
9. Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-Drapac
10. Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time