LIEGE, Belgium (AP) — Dutch rider Wout Poels attacked near the end and held off Swiss veteran Michael Albasini to take the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic on Sunday, the biggest win of his career.
With four riders left in the home stretch on slippery roads, the 28-year-old Poels pulled away with about 250 meters to go, and the Team SKY rider had enough of a lead to sit up in his saddle and raise his arms as he crossed the line.
Poels became the first Dutchman to win the race since Adri Van Der Poel in 1988 and fifth overall.
“It’s amazing to win Liege, it’s like a dream come true after my bad crash of (four) years ago,” said Poels, who ruptured a spleen and kidney and broke three ribs after crashing on the Tour de France in 2012. “Liege is a monument I would watch on TV when I was a child. To win it is incredible.”
Albasini finished ahead of Portuguese cyclist Rui Costa, with 2008 Olympic road race champion Samuel Sanchez of Spain crossing in fourth place.
“Poels was just the strongest today, we were all tired,” Albasini said. “I should have attacked earlier.”
Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde, meanwhile, was looking to win the Ardennes double for a second year after his midweek victory in the Walloon Arrow, but finished out of contention in 16th place.
A group of eight riders led for most of the 248-kilometer (154-mile) course, which was shortened by 5 kilometers (3 miles) due to snow and heavy rain along the route.
“It was a really hard day due to the weather. You had to keep warm and I had prepared well to cope with that, especially in terms of clothing,” Poels said. “You always dream of winning a race like this one, but to do it in these conditions is even more special.”
Two-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome — who is not a classics specialist — overcame a minor spill to finish in 112th place, while Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 Tour winner, placed 51st.
With about 30 kilometers to go, only Frenchman Nicolas Edet and Alessandro De Marchi were left out in front. In driving rain, they managed to reach the top of the Col de la Redoute together, but were caught soon after.
Valverde was among the race favorites, having become the first rider to win the Walloon Arrow four times after racing to a third straight title Wednesday.
He had his eyes set on a fourth win here, too, on the eve of his 36th birthday. Inside the last 20 kilometers, he urged his teammates to accelerate but Valverde struggled near the back of the group when some 20 riders entered the last few kilometers and he finished 12 seconds behind Poels.
With one kilometer left, Albasini attacked first, with Costa, Sanchez and Poels just behind him.
But Poels timed his attack just right to win the grueling race in 6 hours, 24 minutes, 29 seconds.
“I decided to go flat out after the last corner,” said Poels, who is also a support rider for Froome on Grand Tours.