It took just 12km for the day’s main breakaway to get organised and head on up the road, featuring Pirmin Lang (IAM Cycling), Michel Koch (Cannondale), Jacobus Venter (MTN-Qhubeka), Matteo Bono (Lampre), Pieter Jakobs (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Marco Minnaard (Wanty Groupe Gobert). At one point the six riders had as much as 16 minutes over the peloton but the move was more of a bid for TV time than a serious tilt at victory.
Sure enough, as the second half of the race approached (and the bulk of the day’s 10 categorised climbs with it) the peloton started to work and the deficit started to come down.
A handful of the the big names found themselves out of the race long before the finale. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) fell off the pace and abandoned with about 80km to go and about 5km up the road world champion Rui Costa was caught in a crash and abandoned as well.
#LBL Hi friends, I'm ok, do not worry. I have some pain, abrasions and bruises but nothing serious, just bad luck. Thanks for your support.
— Rui Costa (@RuiCostaCyclist) April 27, 2014
With 70km to go the six leaders had an advantage of less than five minutes and when they hit the Col de la Redoute with 45.9km to go the gap was down to 2:10 and the breakaway was down to just five riders. That climb, the fourth-to-last on the day, tore the lead group apart and at the top it was just Mattheo Bono that emerged, leading the race solo.
With 30km to go Bono was still out front on his own following a flurry of attacks from the main field and a series of groupings and regroupings in between. He would eventually be caught on the lower slopes of the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons with about 20km remaining, as Julian Arredondo (Trek) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r) — the latter fresh off a plane from the Giro del Trentino — climbed away together.
There were a handful of shortlived attacks behind the two leaders and after maintaining a small lead for several kilometres they too were caught.
As the day’s last categorised climb — the Cote de Saint-Nicolas — approached, the reduced peloton of 50 riders was all back together. Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) came to the front of the peloton with two teammates, including Simon Gerrans, and the Australian national champion was perfectly placed.
— Pat Shaw (@shawry_07) April 27, 2014
Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) attacked with 5.7km to go, dragging a seemingly comfortable Pozzovivo with him and together the pair passed Stefan Denifl (IAM) who had made his own bid for victory just moments earlier.
Two-time winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) made a move with 5.2km left but he was quickly marked. So too was 2012 runner-up Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) when he attacked on the run in to the final unclassified climb to the finish in Ans.
With 1.8km left to race Caruso and Pozzovivo were clinging desperately to a nine-second advantage as Weening buried himself on the front for Gerrans. And then, just inside the flamme rouge, defending champion Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) gave it everything he had.
The Irishman appeared to be getting caught as the peloton hit the final ascent but he kicked again, passing Pozzovivo and catching on to the wheel of race-leader Caruso.
As Caruso and Martin turned left around the final corner of the race, last year’s winner’s back wheel slipped out from under him and he crashed heavily, his chance of victory gone.
Some reports suggest his tubular rolled off, Martin himself speculated about some oil on the road. Either way, it was a heartbreaking way to lose the race, so close to the end.
@SSbike Not sure I’ve ever seen a rider robbed of such a major victory, so close to the finish line. Can’t think of another example (?)
— Neal Rogers (@nealrogers) April 27, 2014
Meanwhile Caruso was surging towards victory ahead of Alejandro Valverde. Gerrans, in Valverde’s wheel, jumped ahead of the Spaniard, drafted Caruso for the briefest of moments, then kicked hard for victory.
He’d timed his run perfectly — Caruso, spent, could do nothing while Valverde could do little more than hold Gerrans’ wheel.
For Gerrans the victory adds a second Monument to his increasingly impressive palmares, alongside his famous 2012 Milan-San Remo victory. And for second- and third-placed finishers Valverde and Michal Kwiatkowski (OPQS) the result is further evidence of a consistently impressive Spring Classics season.
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