Gilbert can't break the spell in Belgian classic

No first victory for Belgium's Philippe Gilbert in the Belgian classic cycling race Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Gilbert, of the Belgian team Omega Pharma-Lotto, started as the big favourite before the race, but stranded in fourth place. It was Kazakhstan's Alexandr Vinokourov who won the race.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège (LBL) is traditionally the final major classic race in spring. It took the riders 258 kilometres over some steep hills in the Ardennes, in Wallonia. Philippe Gilbert could become the first Belgian rider in 11 years to win it - the late Frank Vandenbroucke was the last Belgian in 1999.

The riders waited a long time to start the battle. On the steep La Redoute climb, things remained calm and quiet. It was only later, on the Roche aux Faucons climb, that Luxembourg's Andy Schleck attacked. Gilbert followed with ease. But the two were caught again.

When Vinokourov attacked, there was no reaction in the pack. Vinokourov was only joined by Russia's Aleksandr Kolobnev. The two joined forces and were quickly out of sight. Gilbert realised the danger, but could not take the two back just by himself, fighting against the wind.

To the surprise of many, Vinokourov and Kolobnev stayed in front. On the final climb, in the Liège suburb of Ans, he left Kolobnev behind. It was Spain's Alejandro Valverde who won the sprint for the third place, beating Gilbert and world champion Cadel Evans. LBL is Gilbert's favourite classic, but he has never won it. He probably never rode a stronger LBL than today, but had the tactical situation against him.

Vinokourov, a controversial winner

Vinokourov (36) has become a controversial rider after his career was marred by doping. In the Tour de France 2007, Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping and had to leave the race. He was given a two-year suspension from professional cycling, but made his comeback in Kazakhstan's Astana team last year. This spring, he returned to the top, winning the Tour of Trentino in Italy this week. When he crossed the finish line in Liège, he was booed by a number of fans.