Until the final kilometer Vincenzo Nibali had pulled off a dramatic and bold win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He was about to win a monument with style — first over the top of the Cote de La Roche aux Faucons, then attacking the descent. You could almost hear the champagne corks popping.
A superb descender, he pulled out a gap of 22 seconds, then steteched it to 39 with ten kilometers to go. Behind him, top riders like Gilbert, Sanchez, Rodriguez and Voeckler struggled to haul him back.
Up the final climb of the Cote de Saint Nicolas, Nibali began to labor but the odds were still in his favor. Gilbert didn’t have enough gas, Rodriguez was getting dropping by Dan Martin (Garmin-Barracuda) and Sanchez lacked his usual punch. The Shark was about to write himself a nice chapter in Italian cycling history.
If not for Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana), Vincenzo Nibali wins Liege-Bastogne-Leige. Instead the Kazah blew past Nibali within sight of the flamme rouge. Nibali made a deperate attempt to latch onto his wheel but Iglinskiy was already gone. He didn’t even looked tired when he crossed the line for a solo win.
When Iglinskiy passed Nibali the Eurosport commentator described it as “soul-destroying.” Bang on, as the Brits like to say. Nibali was a crushed man as he rolled in. Ivan Basso tweeted in calling his teammate a “gladiatore” — make that a glum one.
It was in some respects a strange race. You could argue that hardly any of the pre-race favorites made the top ten. Not Gilbert or Rodriguez or Valverde or Frank Schleck. It was a day for dark horses like Gasparotto (3rd) and Mollema (6th) and Martin (5th). We had picked Samuel Sanchez as our winner but he managed only 7th. In fact, Twisted Spoke was wildly off target, only getting the Martin pick correct — we had him in 4th.
We never say Iglinskiy winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Then again, neither did Nibali.