MAXIM IGLINSKIY powered to an extraordinary victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège under the rain in Belgium on Sunday to close out an equally impressive classics run for Specialized bikes.
The Astana rider attacked on the Saint Nicholas climb late in a brutal 257km Liège race through wind, rain, cold and fog, but the sun broke out just in time for Iglinskiy to neutralize Vincenzo Nibali with a little more than one kilometer to go.
Iglinskiy kept churning the pedals all the up the final climb into Ans to claim his most important victory of his career.
“This is my most beautiful win of my career,” said Iglinskiy, who crossed the line 21 seconds ahead of Nibali. “This is one of cycling’s monuments. To win here means everything to me. I am so happy.”
Specialized rider ENRICO GASPAROTTO, already a winner this week at Amstel Gold Race, sprinted to third to give Astana two on the winner’s podium in one of cycling’s five monuments.
Astana had the numbers when the attacks went down over the La Redoute and Roche aux Faucons climbs in the closing hour of the race.
Specialized rider DARIO CATALDO (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was part of the day’s six-man breakaway and hung on the longest, making it to the base of the Roche aux Faucons before being gobbled up.
Joining Iglinskiy and Gasparotto in the decisive attacks was ROBERT KISERLOVSKI, who helped cover the moves on the decisive Roche aux Faucons climb with 19.5km to go.
Nibali attacked alone over the Roche aux Faucons and opened a promising 43-second gap at the base of the final major climb at Saint-Nicholas.
Iglinskiy latched up with Flèche Wallonne winner Joaquim Rodríguez with about 10km to go and slowly started to gain ground on the Italian.
Rodríguez faded, however, leaving it up to Iglinskiy to chase alone. Nibali looked in control, but Iglinskiy came alive in the decisive moments. When he sniffed blood, he pounced, quickly closing the gap to his Italian rival and just as quickly dropping him.
“The team rode so well during these classics. We knew we could do well, but to win races this week is beyond our dreams,” he said. “When I counter-attacked, I was riding for the podium because Nibali looked good. Then I could see he was struggling and that gave me motivation to push the pedals harder.”
The victory is Iglinskiy’s first since winning Strade Bianchi in 2010 and the most important of his career.
The win at Liège closes out an extraordinary run through the spring classics for Specialized riders. Specialized won four of the six major one-day classics from Milan-San Remo through Liège, including three of the four “monuments” contested so far.
The mouments are: Milan-Sanremo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Tour of Lombardy. Of the four held thus far in 2012, three have been won upon Specialized bikes and equipment.
Cycling now shifts its attention from the 1-day classics to the season’s major stage races: Giro d’Italia, Tour of California, and, of course, the Tour de France.