Dan Martin of Garmin-Sharp has become just the second Irish rider to win cycling's oldest Monument, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, responding to an attack from Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez ahead of the flamme rouge and then dropping the Spaniard to take the biggest win of his career and pull off the major victory he has long been threatening to achieve.
Martin's victory is the third in the race from an Irish rider, following Sean Kelly's two wins in the 1980s, and is also the first from a rider born in Great Britain - he hails from Birmingham, and is a former British junior champion before switching his allegience to Ireland, his mother's native country. Rodriguez finished second, with Alejandro Valverde of Movistar, winner in 2008, third.
Martin's team mate, Ryder Hesjedal, had attacked on the last but one of today's big climbs in a move that resulted in just four other riders joining the Garmin-Sharp pair to contest the finale, the others - besides Rodriguez and Valverde - being AG2R's Carlos Betancur and Lampre-Merida's Michele Scarponi.
In the 2011 Giro di Lombardia, Martin had got the better of Rodriguez to beat the Spaniard to second place behind Leopard-Trek's Oliver Zaugg, and earlier this week he was just edged off the podium as he finished fourth in Flèche Wallonne. Today, he alone was able to follow Rodriguez on the run-in to the finish in Ans, on the outskirts of Liège, of the 261.5 kilometre race nicknamed La Doyenne.
The six-man group had hit that final climb with less than ten seconds' advantage over a chasing group, its members having bridged across to Hesjedal on the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, the summit of which came just 5.5 kilometres from the finish.
The Canadian, who will begin the defence of his Giro d'Italia title in two weeks' time in Naples, had reached the foot of that ascent with a 20 second lead, having time trialled his way down from the previous climb - the Côte de Colonster, replacing the Côte de Roche aux Faucons, missed out due to roadworks - where he had attacked in response to a move from Saxo-Tinkoff's Alberto Contador.
The race had burst into life on the Côte de la Redoute, crested with 38.5 kilometres to go, David Lopez attacking from the main group and Team Sky colleagues including Chris Froome and Richie Porte spreading across the narrow road behind to make it near impossible for anyone to go off after him.
With big names including Contador and world champion Philippe Gilbert of BMC Racing holding back, some riders did manage to get round the Sky riders at the front of the group to join Lopez.
The remains of what had been a group of six riders that had got away early on in the 261.5 kilometre race, who at one point had held an advantage of nearly a quarter of an hour over the main group, had been swept up ahead of the summit of Côte de la Redoute.
Those riders were Lotto-Belisol’s Bart De Clercq, Vacansoleil-DCM’s Frederik Veucheulen, Sander Armée of Topsport, IAM riders Jonathan Fumeaux and Pirmin Lang, and Europcar’s Vincent Jérôme.
As they swung onto the bottom of the Côte de la Redoute, their advantage was just one minute, with teams including Sky, BMC and RadioShack-Leopard having all taken stints at the front of the main group to reel in the break.
By the time the race hit the top of the climb, the seven men out in front were Lopez, AG2R’s Romain Bardet, Jakob Fuglsang of Astana, Rui Costa from Movistar, BMC’s Mathias Frank, Katusha’s Alberto Losada and Lampre-Merida’s Damiano Cunego.
Heading towards the final 30 kilometres, Lopez, Cunego and Bardet attacked again and found themselves alone at the head of the race. Behind, FDJ’s Pierrick Fédrigo had joined the other four members of the break, but they were picked off as the race headed up the Côte de Colonster and Hesjedal made the move that signalled the start of the finale.
For all the work they put in, Sky come away from the Classics campaign that it had huge hopes for with no victories, Sergio Henao coming closest with his second place in Flèche Wallonne.
Gilbert, who comes from just down the road and two years ago was unbeatable in the Ardennes, was also unable to get into the group that would ultimately contest the win, with 2013 now going down as one of the blackest years in Belgian cycling - believed to be the first time in 98 years that no rider from Europe's most cycling-mad nation has won a Spring Classic.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2013 result 1 Daniel MARTIN Garmin-Sharp 06:38:07 2 Joaquin RODRIGUEZ Katusha at 3 seconds 3 Alejandro VALVERDE Movistar 9 4 Carlos BETANCUR AG2R La Mondiale 9 5 Michele SCARPONI Lampre-Merida 9 6 Enrico GASPAROTTO Astana 18 7 Philippe GILBERT BMC Racing 18 8 Ryder HESJEDAL Garmin-Sharp 18 9 Rui COSTA Movistar 18 10 Simon GERRANS Orica-GreenEdge 18 11 Benoît VAUGRENARD FDJ 18 12 Igor ANTON Euskaltel 18 13 Romain BARDET AG2R La Mondiale 18 14 Rinaldo NOCENTINI AG2R La Mondiale 18 15 Lars Petter NORDHAUG Blanco Pro Cycling 18 16 Sergio HENAO Team Sky 18 17 Nicki SÖRENSEN Saxo-Tinkoff 21 18 Jelle VANENDERT Lotto-Belisol 26 19 Simon GESCHKE Argos-Shimano 56 20 Diego ULISSI Lampre-Merida 56
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.