Ans, Belgium – American Logan Owen impressively soloed to victory for the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team at the Under 23 edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège Saturday after being part of a nearly race-long breakaway.
Teammate Ruben Guerreiro of Portugal joined Owen on the podium in third place while another teammate, Krists Neilands of Latvia, finished 10th. It was Axeon Hagens Berman's third victory in Europe in the past three weeks and its fourth of the season overall.
"This is a dream come true," Owen said. "I have always loved this race and now I have managed to win it. I had super legs today. I don't think I have felt this good in a race since I started cycling."
Owen was the only rider from an original breakaway group of 12 who could counter an attack by Pavel Sivakov (BMC Development Team) on the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, the penultimate climb of the 178.6-km race.
"We had decided to try to get strong riders in the breakaway because with the rainy weather, the breakaway had a real chance to go to the finish - and that is exactly what happened," Owen said. "On the climb, I let Sivakov get a little gap on me and three other guys. Then I attacked those three and went straight by him."
The 21-year-old from Bremerton, Washington, topped the climb with a five-second gap which he widened considerably in the final 20 kilometers. "It felt a bit funny to be time trialing to the finish because I am more of a rouleur," Owen said.
Sivakov finished runner-up, 44 seconds after Owen freewheeled his Specialized S-Works Tarmac across the finish line in the Ans velodrome. Guerreiro won the sprint for the remaining podium place 29 seconds later, from a nine-man group that included Neilands. The peloton arrived 1:56 after Owen.
"It was great to put two riders on the podium," Guerreiro said. "Once Logan attacked after the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, I just settled in behind the chase and got ready for the sprint, which went perfectly. I came here to help the team - or try to win - and we succeeded. I am delighted."
Owen said this win ranks right up there with his last - a field sprint at the end of Stage 3 of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah last August. His result Saturday adds to a pair of victories in Europe by Guerreiro at G.P. Palio del Recioto on March 29 and Tao Geoghegan Hart at Trofeo Piva on April 3, as well as Neilson Powless's win in the Stage 3 individual time trial April 8 at the Redlands Bicycle Classic.
Axeon Hagens Berman General Manager Axel Merckx said Owen's performance was a real show of strength.
"He told me that he felt really good, but I didn't know how good the other guys were," Merckx said. "I knew Logan was one of the fastest guys in the group. In the end, he just rode them off his wheel, dropped them and went solo - which is always a nice way to win."
Neilands, who was in the top 10 for the fourth time this season, said the rain and wind made one of the hardest races of the season even more challenging.
"I was really cold and could not feel my fingers afterwards," the Latvian Under 23 national champion said. "My muscles felt cold and that made a race harder. On a day like this, we knew Logan could win because he is a really strong guy."