2012 one-day classics winners following Liege-Bastogne-Liege:
Milan-SanRemo (March 17): Simon Gerrans (AUS/GreenEdge)
Ghent-Wevelgem (March 25): Tom Boonen (BEL/Omega Pharma)
Tour of Flanders (April 1): Tom Boonen (BEL/Omega Pharma)
Paris-Roubaix (April 8): Tom Boonen (BEL/Omega Pharma)
Amstel Gold Race (April 15): Enrico Gasparotto (ITA/Astana)
Fleche Wallonne (April 18): Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP/Katusha)
Liege-Bastogne-Liege (April 22): Maxim Iglinskiy (KAZ/Astana)
Belgium's Tom Boonen emerged as the king of the spring classics, which ended Sunday, with victory in Ghent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and a record-equaling fourth win at Paris-Roubaix. Two weeks after Boonen's blistering start to the season, however, Kazakh team Astana stole a share of the spotlight when Maxim Iglinskiy claimed an unlikely victory at the prestigious Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Iglinskiy's win, which came after he chased down late escapee Vincenzo Nibali in the final kilometers to overtake the tiring Liquigas rider on the final climb, was the biggest of his career. It also handed Astana their second major win of the hilly Ardennes one-day races - the Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne and Liege - a week after Italian Enrico Gasparotto won Amstel in the Netherlands.
In 2011 Belgian Philippe Gilbert was the undisputed classics king after dominating all three Ardennes races, as well as the Fleche Brabanconne. A year later and with the Olympic Games and world championships topping his agenda, Gilbert was a shadow of his former self. The BMC rider finished way off the podium at Amstel, came third at Fleche but and could only finish 16th on Sunday, confirming his pre-race suspicions of not having the form.
"There's no hiding places on a race like this," said Gilbert. "If I wasn't in a position to win the race, it's simply because I didn't have the legs."
Gilbert wasn't the only rider who failed to hit the heights during a campaign in which the flatter, but just as tough, cobbled classics - favored by Boonen - lead into the hillier races in the Ardennes region. Luxembourg siblings Frank and Andy Schleck were conspicuous by their absence.
Frank, a former winner at Amstel, and Andy, who triumphed at Liege in 2009, both finished on the Liege podium last year behind Gilbert. Both are winless so far this season, raising questions over their relationship with RadioShack team manager Johan Bruyneel.
Bruyneel last week reportedly vexed the brothers when he named a management team for the Tour de France which did not include the Schlecks' mentor, Dane Kim Andersen, a sporting director at the team.
Whether their dissatisfaction with the decision was reflected in their mediocre performances is up for debate.
Bruyneel could only admit: "It's been a very negative campaign".
As with every year, there were plenty of positives to take from the spring classics. GreenEdge, Australia's first top flight team, were among the beneficiaries with national champion Simon Gerrans upstaging Swiss Olympic time champion Fabian Cancellara to win the opening classic at Milan-SanRemo.
It was yet another missed chance for RadioShack, and while Gerrans failed to podium in favoured races like Amstel and Liege his San-Remo win was a huge feather in the cap for him and his team. Cancellara's chance to make amends at Paris-Roubaix bit the dust when he crashed, prompting Boonen into a long solo attack which he transformed into a fourth win to equal compatriot Roger De Vlaeminck's long-held record.
"I'm happy not to have had any big crashes yet this season, and if I look back at the last three weeks its amazing," said Boonen. "Now I realize that I will probably be remembered as the best ever on the cobblestones."
Joachim Rodriguez's win at Fleche last week, the Spanish climbing specialist's first in the classics, singled him out as a potential champion at Liege. In the end, Iglinskiy took everyone by surprise including his own team.
"It's a big surprise for us," said Astana sporting director Guido Bontempi. "We came here looking for a good result and now we've won two out of the past three races, it's amazing."