Frank and Andy Schleck had Philippe Gilbert isolated on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons.
Time to gang up on the Belgian, work him over, break him down. The grade was a mean 9.5%, they had 1.5 kilometers to make him suffer. It was two Leopards against one man, True Racing, capital punishment.
Uhh, one flaw in that strategy. Didn’t work. It was Gilbert who handed out the abuse. He attacked and his powerful acceleration dropped Andy like his chain came off. Frank barely clawed his way back on and was happy to be alive. So much for tactics, race essentially over.
On paper the brothers had one more chance, the Saint Nickolas climb. Andy had managed to rejoin Gilbert and his brother on the descent. Once more the boys discussed their options and this time came to a new conclusion: give up, white flag and a concession.
The Schlecks simply escorted Gilbert the rest of the way to the finish. Like Gilbert had two pet trained leopards along for the ride. You can’tsay those Luxembourger guys aren’t polite. They never made another move, didn’t even bother with a half hearted sprint. Not even a small jump for the cameras.
If there’s such a thing as an easy win in a classic, this was it. Gilbert won Liege-Bastogne-Leige and scored the hat trick — Amstel, Fleche Wallonne and Liege. Like Cancellara on the cobblestones, the brothers Schleck had to be content with second. The only guy capable of making the top step of the podium besides Gilbert was his young son Alan.
The Schleck brothers did make the final showdown but for other favorites and hopefuls it was 257 kilometers of hard work and disappoint. One of the strongest teams in the race, Katusha, the Russian Global Cycling Shindig! failed to deliver goods. Alexandr Kolobnev made a late move that was mostly just that — late. An 11th place for his efforts. Danilo “ride for free” di Luca justified his lack of salary by placing 41st. Nothing is more sad than a Killer without a syringe.
Riding his last Liege, Alexander Vinokourov punctured on the Roche aux Faucons, minutes after Gilbert and the Schlecks hit the gas. Air out of tire, end of last chance. A belated chase by teammate Roman Kreuziger netted a fourth place but no real celebration other than confirming his form for the upcoming Giro d’Italia.
Samuel Sanchez missed the big move on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons. He and his Orca rolled in 10th. He made the podium in Flèche Wallonne but came up short in the final classic. The there is no particular joy in Orange-ville.
A pair of chapeaus go to BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet and VHTC-Highroad’s Tejay Van Garderen. Van Avermaet was the strongest man in the early show breakaway and still managed to latch onto the wheels of the Schlecks and Gilbert when they finally blew past. As the best sprinter of the four, he had a solid shot at the podium until Gilbert dumped him on Saint-Nicholas.
Young Van Garderen continues to impress and at just 22, rode a strong race to finish 18th place, just 53 seconds behind Gilbert. Hard not to think he has a massive future ahead of him.