Simon Gerrans became the first Australian to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday.
The Orica-GreenEDGE rider timed his attack to perfection on the tough uphill finish in Ans at the end of 263km of racing.
“It’s an incredible victory, it’s a dream come true to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege,” said the 33-year-old.
“It unfolded perfectly with me in the final. Everybody was really tight coming into the finish and I was perfectly placed to finish it.”
Spanish Fleche Wallonne winner Alejandro Valverde took second with Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski coming home third in the 100th edition of one of the five ‘Monuments’ of cycling.
Before the race, the 2012 Milan-San Remo winner Gerrans admitted he wasn’t as well suited to ‘La Doyenne’ (the oldest race) as he was to the Amstel Gold Race.
Gerrans’s 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.
“It’s incredible, I don’t know what I feel right now,” he said.
“It’s a really tough race at the end, so thanks to my team. They got me to the final. I didn’t have good legs but I kept going and thanks to the team I could win.
“You never know in a final like this, the last climb is very tough. I did my best to get to the final bend with the leader.”
– Thrilling finale –
In a thrilling finale pure climbers Julian Arredondo and Domenico Pozzovivo attaked on the Roche-aux-Faucons climb just over 20km from home.
They held their lead for almost 10km before a determined but a reduced peloton of around 30-35 riders caught them.
Italian Pozzovivo attacked agai, on the final categorised climb, the Cote Saint-Nicolas, alongside compatriot Gianpaolo Caruso.
They gained a gap of 12sec 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.
“I was confident I could beat these guys in a small sprint but after 263km of racing anything’s possible so I just gave it my maximum,” added Gerrans.
Valverde’s second place completed a highly impressive Ardennes campaign for the Movistar team leader, who was also fourth at Amstel.
“I feel very happy, it’s been a very good week for me and the team,” said Valverde, 34.
“With a bit more luck at Amstel I could have been on the podium and then I would’ve been on the podium in all three (Ardennes Classics).
“But I still think that with fourth, first and second, it’s a good return. Now it’s time for some rest and then to prepare for the Tour.”
Omega Pharma’s Kwiatkowski was just as consistent having finished fifth at Amstel and third at Fleche.
“Right now I have a lot of hope for the future with what I did this last week,” said the 23-year-old Pole, who had top five finishes at Amstel and Fleche last year before a poor Liege outing.
“It’s something special. I was aiming to be in really good shape for the Ardennes and I did it, especially today. To be on the podium at the end of Liege-Bastogne-Liege is really something special and I’m very happy.”
Home favourite Philippe Gilbert, the winner at Amstel for the third time in his career, was a disappointing eighth.