The 98th running of the Belgian Classic took a while to get going, but it wasn’t without incident, however, as one unlucky rider crashed out before the peloton had even left the neutralised section. Igor Anton of Euskaltel-Euskadi got himself tangled up as the bunch rolled out from the start and fell, breaking his left clavicle and so had to withdraw before the race had even begun.
It took over 40km before a trio of riders made a break stick. Dario Cataldo (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Simon Geschke (Argos), and Kevin Ista (Accent Jobs) were joined by Reinier Honig (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony), Gregory Habeaux (Accent-Williems) and Alessandro Bazzana (Team Type 1-Sanofi) after 52km with the bulk of this group staying away until late into the race.
The first three of the 11 climbs of the day saw the breakaway lead over with a gap that grew to over 12 minutes at one point, while Katusha, in a rerun of their performance in Fleche Wallonne in midweek, took charge of things back in the peloton.
It wasn’t until they hit the Cote de Stockeu that things began to heat up in the bunch behind the leaders. As the initial breakaway began to come apart Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar), David LeLay (Saur-Sojasun) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) asked questions of the favourites when pulling off the front of the peloton and joining what was left of the breakaway. Those riders held on to a narrow gap until the Col de La Redoute, the ninth of 11 climbs on the day.
By this time Kiryienka, Rolland and Cataldo were all that remained free of the chasing bunch and, try as they might, they were unable to hold out for much longer. As the race reached the penultimate climb, the Cote de La Roche aux Faucons, it was BMC who took control. TJ Van Garderen drove the pace as 2011 winner Phillipe Gilbert tucked in behind. However, it was Nibali who took the initiative and as they crested the climb he attacked with little or no response from the favourites behind.
From there he drove on, extending his lead to 42 seconds at one stage. There was plenty of action behind as Maxim Iglinsky (Astana) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) tried to peg him back. There were also efforts from Dan Martin (Garmin Barracuda) and yet another from Pierre Rolland (Europcar), but as Nibali made his way up the final climb of the day (Cote de Saint-Nicolas) he seemed to have enough left in the tank to take the win.
Iglinsky had other ideas as he left Rodriguez in his wake and set off in chase of the Italian. The 31-year-old Kazakh refused to give in and as he rode towards the final kilometre he could see the leader up the road in front of him. Nibali had nothing left and as he struggled to keep the pedals turning to take second, Iglinky rode past him with ease to take the win.
Pre-race favourite Phillipe Gilbert (BMC) rolled in to sympathetic applause, but the day belonged to Astana as Enrico Gasparotto claimed third place to make it a very successful Ardennes Week for them.