Dan Martin and Rdyder Hesjedal worked the one-two punch to perfection in Liege-Bastongne-Liege. It was a master’s class in boxing on wheels.
First, the winner of last year’s Giro d’Italia punched out World Champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Alberto Contador (Saxo Tinkoff) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre).
Then Martin delivered a knock-out blow to Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) in the final 200 meters to win La Doyenne in thrilling fashion. As team boss Jonathan Vaughters tweeted near the end, “Holy shit I am shaking!!!!”
As far as race strategy, it was a game of numbers and Garmin-Sharp had only two but they were the smartest and strongest riders in the race.
Up against powerful squads like BMC, Astana and Sky, the Boulder-based squad went bold and aggro.
“The whole team rode amazing, I was protected all day. We’d agreed this morning that we would both be protected riders and that Ryder would go for a longer move,” Martin said. “Then the other teams missed him going and he was stuck out there.”
Hesjedahl blew out of the peloton with 17k to the finish, drawing Contador, Serio Henao (Sky), Igor Anton (Euskaltel), Rodriguez and Rui Costa (Movistar). Proving that he’ll be a formidable champion in the Giro, Hesjedal simply motored away from them on the backside of the Côte de Colonster.
Meanwhile Dan Martin was sitting in his Cervelo armchair enjoying the carnage and biding his time. The Canadian went all-in and down into time trial mode and for a short time, it appeared he might actually steal the race.
When Betancur attacked on the Côte de St Nicolas, the race exploded. Scarponi, Rodriguez and Valverde followed with Martin cruising along for company. They bridged to Hesjedal and the Canadina did his role reversal. Now he buried himself for his teammate and kept the small group away from the chasers at Astana and BMC.
It wasn’t much of a gap — 20-30 meters — but Martin stretched it out on the descent. One of these five riders would win Liege-Bastogne-Liege, discounting the exhausted Hesjedal.
Rodriguez ripped clear with 1200 meters to go and his acceleration looked like the hammer blow. Valverde could barely get out of his saddle and Scarponi made a half-hearted attempt but his legs said don’t bother.
Only Martin made the concerted effort — slowly, with agonizing effort, he crawled his way to the Spaniard’s rear wheel. That was a chapeau right there and second place would have been a huge result. Most observers figured “Purito” still had one final burst that would kill Martin’s valiant performance.
Instead it was Martin who pulled along side the Man from Katusha, sized him up, then jumped up the left side just 100 meters before the final 90 degree left bend. Rodriguez didn’t even check his tank, he already knew it was empty.
“When I got across to Rodriguez, I didn’t want to leave it to a sprint, I knew I’d have to try and surprise Rodriguez. I had to go on the attack to make sure I got it,” said Martin.
He rolled across the line solo, arms streched out wide, the winner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the oldest of the classics, the toughest monument of them all.
Martin and Hesjedal, in a knockdown.