By Alasdair Fotheringham
LIEGE, Belgium (Reuters) - Simon Gerrans outpowered favorite Alejandro Valverde of Spain to become Australia's first winner of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege Classic on Sunday.
After the hilly 263-km course had shredded the lead group to two dozen, the Orica-GreenEdge rider tore ahead of Valverde and Poland's Michal Kwiatkowski in the final kilometer to win the centenary edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the last major one-day Classic of the first half of the 2014 season.
"I wasn't expecting to see such a big group coming in together, but it seemed like everyone was a little more tired than expected and no-one had the legs to break away," Gerrans, the Australian national champion and winner of another cycling 'Monument', the Milan-San Remo Classic in 2012, told reporters.
"I myself was not feeling to good with about 30 kilometers to go, I said I wasn't feeling so good, but the team stuck by me and that gave me the extra confidence.
"My card to play in this race was try to be in a small group and see if there was a sprint, and that was what happened."
Third in the hilly Dutch Classic Amstel Gold last Sunday, the 33-year-old added: "I've had some very special victories in my career, including stage wins in all three Grand Tours, but I always thought to win in Liege everything would need to unfold perfectly."
"Winning here is always special, but to get the hundredth edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege really puts my name in the history of the race."
On a day when several of the favorites suffered bad luck or injuries, defending champion Dan Martin of Ireland crashed on the last corner when making a late attack.
World Champion Rui Costa of Portugal crashed and abandoned with 90km to go with minor injuries and Britain's 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome failed to start the race because of a chest infection.
Froome's team, Sky, confirmed that he will be at his next scheduled event, the Tour of Romandie, which starts on Tuesday.
"He probably could have started but he wouldn't have got rid of what he's got," team principal Dave Brailsford said.
"So (in that situation) you've got to make some calls."
(Editing by Josh Reich)