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2003 World Cup

89th Liège - Bastogne - Liège - CDM
Belgium, April 27, 2003
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Hamilton first American to win La Doyenne
By Jeff Jones in Ans

Hamilton triumphs
Photo: © AFP
Tyler Hamilton (CSC) has pulled off his biggest career win in the 89th edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, beating Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) and the consistent Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) in Ans. Hamilton surprised the others in the leading break when he attacked after the descent of the Côte de St Nicolas, and was able to put his considerable time trialing and climbing skills to good use as he powered up the final drag to the finish. The Man from Marblehead claimed his first ever World Cup win, and it will be one he will savour for a long time.

"I don't think it's really sunk in a hundred percent," said a stunned Hamilton after the finish. "Everything's happened so fast. I'm still very shocked but extremely happy.

It also marked the first victory by an American in Liege, after Lance Armstrong finished second twice, and Greg Lemond third. "To be the first American to win is really incredible," said Hamilton. "Not just that, but to win this my opinion it's the most difficult World Cup. Ever since I did the race in 1997 I wanted to come back here and do a strong race. I can't tell you how special it is to have this victory."

Hamilton's victory came at the expense of his former teammate and pre-race favourite Lance Armstrong, who looked to have the race in hand when he attacked on the Côte de Sart-Tilman with 16 km to go, taking Alexandr Shefer (Saeco) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) with him. The trio gained 30 seconds on the group behind, and it didn't look like they were coming back.

Armstrong falls short
Photo: © AFP
Hamilton explained: "When the group with Armstrong went away I thought 'that's the move and I think I missed it'. I was disappointed that I wasn't there but I was happy that he was there, and I knew at the time he was the strongest in the group. If they were to stay away he would win the race. It was kind of a bittersweet moment for me."

Unfortunately for Armstrong and co., CSC hadn't given up the race, as Tyler continued. "Then a big group caught us with two of my teammates - Carlos Sastre and Nicki Sorensen. We're here to win the race so we had Nicki and Carlos ride hard to pull the group back. They rode with the strength of ten men I think. Without their help we wouldn't have caught them."

When it came back together again on the Côte de St Nicolas, and after a move by Rabobank's Michael Boogerd failed, Hamilton saw his chance. "There was some cat and mouse going on. It was then I attacked, everybody was looking at each other and I don't think I was the most dangerous rider in that group. There were two guys from Euskadi and Boogerd, definitely guys who were faster in the sprint than me. I knew if we came to the final climb they could probably accelerate quicker than me because I have more of a diesel engine."

The podium
Photo: © AFP
"I gave it a whirl, put my head down and went as hard as I could," said Hamilton, who motored away from the chasing group into Liege, and kept his lead all the way up the two kilometre finishing climb to Ans.

Although the race was played out differently before that, Hamilton's late move was very similar to Alexandre Vinokourov's win in the Amstel Gold Race last week. Hamilton looked more stunned than exhausted when he crossed the line in Ans, but he once again proved the bike racing adage that the strongest rider does not always win the race.

How it unfolded
Under threatening grey skies and cool, windy conditions, the colourful peloton left Liège's Place Saint Lambert at 9:45am for its annual out and back journey to Bastogne. Despite a stiff headwind on the way out, the riders averaged 42.5 km/h in the first hour before four riders attacked: Victor Hugo Peña (US Postal-Berry Floor), Martin Elmiger (Phonak), Benoît Vaugrenard ( and Marco Pinotti (Lampre). This quartet quickly established itself at the front, and by Bastogne (98.5 km) had an advantage of around three minutes to a chasing group of three (Marc Streel, Kurt Van De Wouwer and Michel Vanhaecke) and 9'45 to the still massive peloton.

Once they hit Bastogne and began the return journey and the tailwind, the bunch began to pick up the pace, led by the Saeco team. The three man chasing group could get no closer than 1'50, and all the breakaways were eventually absorbed by the peloton just after the Côte de Wanne at 165 km. Four riders immediately countered: Mario Aerts (Telekom), Alexandre Shefer (Saeco), Marcos Serrano (ONCE), and Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel), but were recaptured by a fast moving but dwindling peloton at the summit of the Côte du Rosier (km 194).

Tyler takes off
Photo: © Jeff Tse
A more significant move came from Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo), who took Gerrit Glomser and Igor Astarloa (Saeco), Cristian Moreni (Alessio), Angel Vicioso (ONCE) and Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) with him. On the key climb of the Côte de la Redoute with 35 km to go, Merckx, Vicioso, Moreni and Astarloa dropped their companions, and held a 48 second gap on the group with the next favourites, including Armstrong, Hamilton and Boogerd.

With 25 kilometres to go, it was Merckx attacking solo, but he was caught by an important group: Lance Armstrong, Alexandr Shefer, Michele Bartoli and Samuel Sanchez. On the Côte de Sart-Tilman with 16 km to go, Armstrong attacked repeatedly, dropping Bartoli and Merckx. The three men had 30 seconds on the next group of riders, and it seemed as though that was the race. But behind them there was a regrouping of sorts, and Hamilton's teammates drove the group hard to the base of the Côte de Saint-Nicolas with 6 km to go, putting an end to Armstrong's promising move.

The leaders were strung out on the ten percent grade of the climb, but no-one could get a gap at the top. Dutch favourite Michael Boogerd played his cards over the top with a solo move on the descent into Liege. But he was chased down by the group, with Euskaltel's Iban Mayo and Samuel Sanchez doing most of the work.

Mayo and Boogerd
Photo: © Elmar Krings
It was then that Hamilton saw his chance, attacking with three kilometres to go just before the final uphill to Ans. Hamilton went, the others watched, and the race was over. Hamilton's strength carried him swiftly over the final few kilometres, although he was only confident that he had a sufficient gap when he got to the final corner with 300m to go. The win was his, while Iban Mayo proved to be the strongest of the chase group in taking second, in front of Michael Boogerd, who added another World Cup podium finish to his palmares.

Speaking of the World Cup, today it was almost impossible for anyone to remove the jersey from Peter van Petegem's shoulders. The Lotto-Domo man did not have a great day, and was off the back of the bunch on the Côte du Rosier, only to abandon at the second feed zone a few kilometres later. A tired Van Petegem explained that he just didn't have enough strength today, and will now rest for some time before beginning his build up for the second half of the season in August. The World Cup is still wide open, with Michael Boogerd now on 140 points behind Van Petegem. But at least until the HEW Cyclassics on August 3, Peter Van Petegem remains the World Cup leader.