Poels entered the final kilometre alongside Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE), Sammy Sanchez (BMC) and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida).
Albasini was the protagonist in the finale launching a move on the new and penultimate Cote de la Rue Naniot climb. But Poels waited until the final moment to make his move as Sanchez and Costa faded.
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The temperature just one 1°C when the riders left Liège, the course changed to avoid snowier weather on the hillier terrain between kilometres 45 and 75.
A breakaway formed after 11km and contained some strong riders in Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff), Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), Edet (Cofidis), Cesare Benedetti (BOA), Thomas De Gendt (LTS), Alessandro De Marchi (BMC) and Jeremy Roy (FDJ). They were later joined by Vegard Stake Laengen (IAM). Their time gap reached a maximum of 8 minutes and 50 seconds.
But the work done by Movistar and Etixx-Quickstep back in the pack after the diversion was just too good and the gap dropped dramatically, all ultimately back together with under 25kms to go.
Carlos Betancur (Movistar) attacked around the 20km mark but was caught five kilometres later. The main pack was down to 30 riders and struggled over the Côte de Saint-Nicolas.
Always the Orica-GreenEdge work-horse, but with the ability of a leader, Albasini took his chance to shine.
“It was really tough out there. In those kinds of conditions you are always thinking about staying as warm and dry as possible especially towards the end," he said.
“We had stripped off some layers going into the final and then it snowed again, it was really demanding. It was close at the end, I felt good and I tried a couple of times to get away but I didn’t quite have the legs in the last few metres.”
“Maybe it’s too soon to be happy about second place but I think in the days to come I will be pretty happy about it.”
Australia's best performer was pre-race favourite Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) who finished 33rd.
Chris Froome finished 112th in only his second outing in the race. 46 riders did not finish the race including punchy riders Tom-Jelte Slagter and Michael Woods of Cannondale.