Orica-GreenEdge’s Gerrans passed Italian Gianpaolo Caruso (Katusha) on the final straight to become the first Australian to win ‘La Doyenne’ ahead of Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Ireland’s Martin was closing in on Italian duo Caruso and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2R-La Mondiale) when he slid out on the final left-hand bend ahead of the finish in the Liege suburb of Ans. Gerrans managed to avoid the sprawling Martin to take a historic win in the fourth ‘Monument’ of the season.
"It’s incredible – I don’t know what to say," said Gerrans, winner of Milan-San Remo in 2012. "It was a very hard race and I have to thank my team-mates because I didn’t have the legs with thirty kilometres to go."
A largely subdued race saw a break of six riders edge out of the peloton 35km into the undulating 263km route. Pirmin Lang (IAM Cycling), Michel Koch (Cannondale), Jacobus Venter (MTN-Qhubeka), Matteo Bono (Lampre), Pieter Jacobs (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Marco Minnaard (Wanty Groupe Gobert) built up a maximum lead of almost 16 minutes over the first half of the race before the succession of climbs took their toll.
Minnaard was the first to wane on the Côte de Wanne with 95km remaining as the peloton began to up an otherwise sluggish tempo. Italian Bono was the last man standing from the break, caught on the base of the penultimate climb, the notoriously difficult Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons - reintroduced into the race for the special centenary edition - 20km from the finish.
By this point there had been a number of high-profile withdrawals, with world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) crashing hard and both Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and 2009 champion Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) calling it a day with niggling injuries.
Team Sky only started the race with six riders following the withdrawal of Tour de France champion Chris Froome and youngster Peter Kennaugh through illness. Colombian Carlos Betancur (Ag2R-La Mondiale) also failed to take to the start.
The reeling in of Bono finally infused a bit of spark into proceedings, with the diminutive duo of Pozzovivo and Colombia’s Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing) bounding clear. The pair were caught with 11km remaining before Gerrans’ Orica-GreenEdge team came to the front of the streamlined peloton to marshal affairs heading onto the last of ten categorised climbs, the Côte de Saint-Nicolas.
Switzerland’s Stephan Denifl (IAM Cycling) made the first move but he was swiftly joined by a counter attack involving both Caruso and Pozzovivo. The Italian duo built up a lead of 15 seconds over the summit before descending into Ans with a small advantage over the agitated pack.
A series of attacks came from the likes of Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Europcar pair Cyril Gautier and Pierre Rolland, as well as Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol) and Lars-Peter Nordhaug of Belkin.
But it was Martin, last year’s winner, who finally made a counter attack that stuck, surging clear of his rivals on the final rise inside the last kilometre. Martin had passed Pozzovivo and was closing in on Caruso when he clipped his pedals on the final bend, sparking the decisive dig by Gerrans.
Two time winner Valverde – who has something of a rivalry with the Australian – did his best to latch on to Gerrans’ wheel, but last week’s Fleche Wallonne winner didn’t have the power to pass his adversary, who rode over the line to make history for Australia.
Kwiatkowski, the promising young Pole, capped a fine Ardennes fortnight with another place on the podium following his third place in Wallonne, while Italians Caruso and Pozzovivo completed the top five, three seconds back.
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- Domenico Pozzovivo