Martin gives his all but has to be content with second
Ireland's Dan Martin came agonisingly close to a second victory in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege one-day classic in Belgium yesterday, when he was beaten into second place in the final metres of the 250km long race by Spaniard Alejandro Valverde of Movistar.
Martin's Quick-Step Floors outfit kept their Irish team leader safe in the confines of the peloton for much of the race, until all of the early breakaways were reeled in on the climb of San Nicolas with around 5km remaining.
Davide Formolo of Cannondale counter-attacked, but on the final climb of the day, with just a kilometre remaining, the Italian dangled just four seconds clear of an elite front group containing Martin and the rest of the pre-race favourites.
Martin, who finished second behind Valverde in the Fleche-Wallonne classic last Wednesday, launched a blistering attack with around 800m to go and managed to go straight past the Italian.
Behind, though, Valverde benefited from a strong chase by the Orica Scott team before jumping across the gap alone and snatching a fourth Liege-Bastogne-Liege victory in the final metres, with Michal Kwiatkowski of Sky third, three seconds back.
Having had a two-year doping ban imposed on him in 2010 for his involvement in the 2006 Operacion Puerto blood doping saga, Valverde, who turns 37 tomorrow, is in the form of his life. He won a fifth Fleche-Wallonne five days earlier and has taken the Vuelta a Murcia, Volta a Catalunya, Vuelta a Andalucia and Tour of the Basque Country in a remarkable early season campaign.
"The team was fantastic," said Valverde of his Movistar squad afterwards.
"We worked excellently. We controlled the break because it was dangerous.
"On the last climb Dan Martin attacked really hard, but I managed to reach him at the right moment and was able to use my sprint to the finish line."
Although disappointed to be beaten into second twice in the same week, Martin was upbeat about his performance afterwards and was quick to praise his Quickstep squad for positioning him so well in the finale.
"We rode a great race and we were beaten by someone better," he said.
"On Wednesday, I wasn't happy with myself because I thought I made a mistake, but today I'm very happy with the way I rode, and the team too. They rode out of their skin for me.
"I went for a strong attack in the finale. I waited for the moment Alejandro was a bit boxed in, I thought I'd catch him by surprise.
"I gave my all. Once he came past me, I just hoped there was nobody else coming. Of course it would be better without Alejandro, but it's never a frustration to be beaten by someone stronger.
"It's a great result and it's a great way to finish the classics for the team. It's been an incredible first part of the season."
Yesterday's race began with a minute's applause in memory of Astana's Italian rider Michele Scarponi, who was killed when he was hit by a truck while training at the weekend and afterwards Valverde dedicated his prize money to Scarponi's family.
"This win is for Michele Scarponi," said Valverde afterwards. "He was a good friend of mine. It hurts to think he's gone, I'll miss him. I'll give all my prize money from this victory to his family."