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LIEGE, Belgium (AFP) — Unheralded Kazakhstani Maxim Iglinsky stunned a host of favorites to claim the biggest win of his career at a rain-hit Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.
Vincenzo Nibali, who looked to have secured his maiden victory in cycling’s oldest one-day classic until Iglinsky overtook him on the 11th and final climb of the 257.5 km epic, finished runner-up at 21 seconds.
“I have raced Liège seven times and I can finally win,” said Iglinsky. “It was a surprise that I could catch Nibali. I could see he was suffering and I attacked him because I could see he was finished. I just buried myself and I could win.”
It was Astana’s second major win inside a week, after Enrico Gasparotto’s victory at the Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands last Sunday. Gasparotto completed the podium at “La Doyenne” after beating Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Dan Martin (Garmin-Barracuda) in the field sprint.
Astana team manager Guido Bontempi admitted Gasparotto had been his team’s main hope for victory in the third of the Ardennes Classics races. But Iglinsky created his own chance for victory when he dropped one race favorite, Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), on the climb to Saint-Nicolas before chasing down a tiring Nibali and overtaking him with 1.1km to race.
“It’s the biggest win of my career,” said the 31-year-old Kazakh, who revealed he had been spurned on to try his luck by former two-time winner, compatriot Alexander Vinokourov.
“Alexander called me this morning and told me I could win this race, but that I had to try and get into a breakaway.”
Bontempi admitted: “It’s a big surprise for us. We came here looking for a good result and now we’ve won two out of the past three races, it’s amazing.
“Today Maxim produced an extraordinary display.”
Defending champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) was among several big contenders who failed to shine on a day marked by intermittent rain showers and cold temperatures. The Belgian, who had signaled his ambitions by finishing third behind Rodríguez at the Flèche Wallonne semi-classic on Wednesday, was left trailing when Iglinsky and Rodriguez attacked in a bid to reel in Nibali.
He eventually finished 16th at 1:27.
Former two-time winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was never in contention, the Spaniard spending key moments of the race at the back of the peloton before suffering a mechanical problem on the La Redoute climb, which prompted him to borrow a teammate’s bike.
To add to the Spaniard’s woes, he was later declassified along with three of his teammates for going off course.
Andy and Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), who finished second and third, respectively, behind Gilbert in 2011, also failed to factor in the finale. Fränk was by far the better of the pair during Ardennes week, but the Luxemburger was dropped on the Redoute, 36km from the finish. He finished among a 20-strong group just behind Gilbert at 2:11.