Advertisements

Gilbert doubles up at Amstel Gold

Belgian Classics specialist Philippe Gilbert became the first man to win the Amstel Gold one-day race in consecutive years since Jan Raas (1977-80). The 28-year old timed his effort on the concluding Cauberg climb to perfection to beat Joaquim Rodríguez, after Andy Schleck had made a brave solo break with 11 kilometres remaining which was only pulled back inside the final 400 metres.

Amstel Gold is traditionally raced across the province of Limburg in the Netherlands. Despite the country’s reputation for being low and flat, the race is run on hilly terrain, featuring 31 climbs on this year’s 260km route, with the highest concentration of climbs (and the toughest) being in the second half of the race. Also typical of Dutch road races, the course is tight and twisty, with the riders frequently required to negotiate parked cars and road furniture such as roundabouts, speed bumps and chicanes. The race starts in Masstricht and ends on top of the Cauberg in Valkenburg, a hill which is climbed three times during the course of the day.

The peloton is cheered on by big crowds as they climb the Gulpenerberg (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

About 55km into the race, a breakaway of four finally formed after several earlier unsuccessful attempts. Thomas Degand (Veranda’s Willems Accent) was joined by Pierpaolo De Negri (Farnese Vini-Neri), Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano) and Simone Ponzi (Liquigas-Cannondale). The quartet pulled out an 11-minute lead but subsequently split as the peloton closed in. Degand and De Negri were joined up front by Carlos Barredo (Rabobank) and Jan Ghyselinck (HTC-Highroad), and this new foursome drew ahead by over a minute before the peloton reeled them back in with under 40km remaining.

With around 24km to go on the approach to the Kuisberg climb, a crash compromised the races of the Leopard-Trek pair of Fränk Schleck (the 2006 winner) and Fabian Cancellara. They subsequently missed the decisive split as an attack initiated by Katusha‘s Alexander Kolobnev formed an elite group of around 20 riders just as they were attempting to regain contact with the main field. The front group included Rodríguez, as well as Gilbert and two of his Omega Pharma-Lotto teammates, Jurgen van den Broeck and Jelle Vanendert.

Gilbert repeated his 2010 victory

The Omega Pharma riders moved to the front of this group, controlling the tempo as they hit the slopes of the penultimate climb of the Keutenberg, a short (500m) but brutal hill which averages 16% with a maximum gradient of 22%. Rodríguez attacked on the steepest part of the climb and opened up a gap, but with van den Broeck and Vanendert leading the chase he was unable to stay away.

Kolobnev attacked over the summit but was quickly pulled back, but then Andy Schleck launched himself off the front with just over 11km remaining and established a lead of around 15 seconds. He managed to maintain a slim advantage on to the slopes of the Cauberg (1.2km at 6%, with a maximum of 12%) as the chasing hounds bore down on him, but with the advantage of numbers behind them the catch was inevitable. Schleck held on until around the 400-metre mark, but as Rodríguez kicked for home he and Gilbert swept past him as if he was standing still. Gilbert bided his time, waiting until they had passed the 200-metre board before putting in a finishing burst which the Spaniard could not match. Despite slowing to celebrate before the line, he won by two clear seconds, with Sky‘s Simon Gerrans a further two seconds behind as the rest of the lead group fractured on the final climb.

After the race, the victorious Gilbert admitted that the support of his team had made his task much easier:

My team-mates worked real hard and I didn’t have to chase or attack once before the final.

I had good help with me. Everyone in my team was in perfect condition. We had a very good preparation and I told them this morning to be ready.

Rodríguez was pleased with his race, despite being pipped at the end by Gilbert:

I’m very happy with this second place, because I have to admit Gilbert was the best rider today. In the last kilometre I tried to get an advantage over Gilbert, because as everybody saw in the last sprint he is much faster than me.

A second place in such an important race is a big prize for me because, between all of the races of the Ardennes Triple, the Amstel is the one that fits me worst. I think that, theoretically, both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are races that suit me better. I’m positive because, just in the right moment, the big work made by the team during the winter session is bearing fruit.

Andy Schleck admitted that his planned attack had been compromised by the loss of Cancellara and his brother:

I wanted to win, I didn’t want to finish second or third, so that’s why I tried something. I’m not going to beat Philippe Gilbert in the sprint on this finish. So that’s why I put everything on one card.

I think it was a pretty good moment when I went. It’s a key point in the race and when Fränk won (in 2006), he went there. We’d planned to go a little bit earlier because we knew we had four or five guys in really good shape. We had Fabian, Jakob [Fuglsang], Fränk and me. Unfortunately we lost Fränk and Fabian in a really decisive moment but we had to do the best of the situation.

I went but it was still a pretty big group behind me for the finale. That wasn’t really in my favour but I had to go full gas but they were pretty quickly organised behind.

The next week sees the focus shift to Belgium as the other two Ardennes Classics take place: Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday and Liège-Bastogne-Liège next Sunday. Cadel Evans is unable to defend his title in the former, but Alexandre Vinokourov will be hoping to repeat his 2010 win in the latter. Rodríguez and Gilbert are likely to be among the front-runners in both races.

Result:

1. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 6:30:44

2. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) +0:02

3. Simon Gerrans (Sky) +0:04

4. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +0:05

5. Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) same time

6. Óscar Freire (Rabobank) s/t

7. Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:07

8. Ben Hermans (RadioShack) +0:18

9. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) +0:19

10. Paul Martens (Rabobank) +0:26

Link: Official website, Steephill.tv

Advertisements

About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

%d bloggers like this: