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Three weeks after Demoitie’s tragic death, Gasparotto won his second Amstel Gold Race by beating Valgren in a two-rider sprint; Colbrelli beat Coquard and Matthews in the sprint for third

Photo: Kristof Ramon / Wanty-Groupe Gobert

AMSTEL GOLD RACE

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ENRICO GASPAROTTO

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MICHAEL VALGREN

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SONNY COLBRELLI

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WANTY - GROUPE GOBERT

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17.04.2016 @ 17:28 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty) took the most emotional victory of his career by coming out on top in the Amstel Gold Race for the second time. After a strong attack on the Cauberg, he beat Michael Valgren (Tinkoff) in a two-rider sprint while Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani) was the fastest in the big group that sprinted for third.

 

Three weeks ago the cycling world was shocked by Antoine Demoitie’s tragic death. His teammate Enrico Gasparotto was far from the dramatic event as he was training at altitude to get ready for his big goals at the Ardennes.

 

However, the Italian immediately made it clear that he wanted to take a big win for his teammate and with a great showing at the Volta a Catalunya, he had already proved that he was on track for big things. He underlined his good form by riding to second at Brabantse Pijl where he was hugely disappointed not to have taken the victory for Demoitie.

 

Today he took that elusive win in a much bigger race when he emerged as the strongest in the Amstel Gold Race for the second time in his career. With a powerful attack on the Cauberg, he crested the summit as the lone leader and after Michael Valgren had bridged across, he easily beat the Dane in a two-rider sprint to take his first win since he last won the Dutch classic in 2012.

 

It had been a fast race right from the start but no one had been able to break Orica-GreenEDGE’s strong stranglehold and when the remnants of the early break was caught with around 15km to go, it was still a relatively big field that had gathered to decide the race. An impressive Mathew Hayman was still there and he was setting the pace for Orica-GreenEDGE.

 

. He led the group to the bottom of the Bemelerberg with 9km to go where Enrico Battaglin (LottoNL-Jumbo) upped the pace.

 

Oliver Naesen (IAM) started the attacking and while Boasson Hagen had to surrender, it was Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff) who surged clear. Michael Albasini desperately started to chase for Orica-GreenEDGE and when he exploded, Daryl Impey took over.

 

The South African was unable to respond when Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) launched a very powerful attack and quickly sprinted past Kreuziger who dropped back to the peloton. Wellens crested the summit with a10-second advantage and he had pushed it out to 12 seconds with 6km to go.

 

The peloton was still fairly big and contained several fast finishers but the chase was not organized. Pieter Serry (Etixx-QuickStep) and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL) both tried to get clear and Kreuziger also tried again. However, it was impossible to get clear.

 

Wellens had pushed his advantage out to 20 seconds when Serry and Andriy Grivko (Astana) started to chase. Albasini returned to the front and slowly the gap started to come down.

 

Ag2r hit the front on the descent towards the bottom of the Cauberg but it was LottoNL-Jumbo that led the group onto the steep slopes around 20 seconds behind Wellens. Vanmarcke set the pace but his teammates never managed to launch the expected attack.

 

Instead, it was Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep) who started the aggression but he failed to get clear. That’s when Gasparotto made his move and he was joined by Jan Bakelants (Ag2r) and Michael Valgren. The trio sprinted past the fading Wellens while pre-race favourite Michael Matthews was forced to chase.

 

Gaspaotto dropped his companions but Valgren clearly still had something left. The Dane surged clear when he had been brought back and made it back to Gasparotto as they crested the summit.

 

Gasparotto set the pace for a few hundred metres until Valgren took over. The pair increased their advantage as there was no cooperation in the peloton. Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal) and Maurits Lammertink (Roompot) made an unsuccessful move and then the former started to ride on the front.

 

When Vanendert swung off, it again came to a standstill and as Valgren led the front duo under the flamme rouge, they looked likely to stay away. Samuel Sanchez (BMC) tried to bridge across but he never got clear and instead Vakoc started to work for Julian Alaphilippe.

 

However, it was all too late as Valgren was apparently content with second and he set the pace all the way until Gasparotto sprinted past him a few hundred metres from the line. The Italian had plenty of time to celebrate while Sonny Colbrelli easily won the sprint for third three seconds later, holding off Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) and Matthews.

 

The series of Ardennes classics continues on Wednesday at Fleche Wallonne where more climbers will have joined the peloton. The next major Dutch race is Ster ZLM Toer in the second half of June.

 

A traditional course

The 51st Amstel Gold Race was held on a 248.7km course that brought the riders from Maastricht to the nearby city of Valkenburg. Along the way, they had to tackle a total of 34 short, steep climbs, most notably the Cauberg which featured four times on the course. The penultimate passage came with 21.1km to go and then the riders tackled the Geulhemmerweg  and Bemelerberg before they hit the landmark climb for the final time. After the top, there were still 1800m of flat roads left.

 

200 riders turned up for the start in Maastricht under a blue sky but for one of the outsiders it all ended very quickly. Fabio Felline (Trek) and Mike Teunissen (LottoNL-Jumbo) crashed already in the neutral zone, and the former had to withdraw with a broken nose.

 

A fast start

The breakaway often get clear relatively early in the Amstel Gold Race, but it was by no means the case in 2016. The start was absolutely brutal, and there were attacks everywhere right from the start. No one had escaped as they hit the day's first climb, Slingerberg, where 9 riders were quickly reduced to a strong quartet. They remained out front until they were caught after 11km of racing. At the same time, a sick Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) was dropped, and he left the race immediately.

 

The next break consisted of six riders that were quickly halved, but after 17km of racing, it was back together. The fast pace meant that Astana and BMC split the peloton on tje third climb, Lange Raarberg, but after 22km of racing a regrouping took place.

 

11 riders get clear

After a trio briefly had a gap, the foundation for the break was laid when six riders attacked after 33km of racing. First two riders joined the move, and later 11 riders gathered in front. After 33km of racing, the group with Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida), Laurent Didier (Trek Segafredo), Laurens De Vreese (Astana), Matteo Montaguti (AG2R-La Mondiale), Kevin Reza (FDJ), Alex Howes (Cannondale) Larry Warbasse (IAM Cycling), Tom Devriendt (Wanty Group Gobert), Fabien Grellier (Direct Energie), Josef Cerny (CCC Polkowice-Sprandi) and Giacomo Berlato (Nippo-Vini Fantini) had an advantage of 30 seconds and when the field finally took a breather, it quickly to more than a minute. At the same time, Teunissen dropped back to the medical car after his earlier crash.

 

The riders covered an impressive 46.8 kilometers during the first hour, and the break did not slow down. After 51km of racing, they had widened the gap to 5 minutes, but it was the maximum they got. When they hit the Cauberg for the first time, the peloton upped the pace, and they crossed the finish line for the first time 4.35 behind the leaders.

 

Sky take control

Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) had mechanical problems while Orica-GreenEdge and Katusha kept the lead between 4.30 and 5.00. With 180km to target go, Sky took over, but it did not change the situation, as the lead was still 4.40 after two hours with an average of 43.5 km/h. From the first feed zone, however, the speed went up, and after 94km of racing, the gap had dropped to just four minutes.

 

At the entrance of the last 150km, Sky were still in front and they kept the distance between 4.00 and 4.30 for nearly 50 kilometers. With 110km to go, however, they accelerated and briefly split the field. However, it was quickly back together but this lead has dropped to 3.33.

 

Vuillermoz crashes out of the race

Danny Van Poppel (Etixx-QuickStep) and Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE) did the early work as they entered the final 100km where Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) had to work hard to rejoin the peloton after a puncture. Van Poppel was really applying some pressure at this point, reducing the gap to 3 minutes but as they returned to bigger roads with 95km to go, the pace went down again. Meanwhile, a crash brought down Alexis Vullermoz (Ag2r) who was forced to abandon.

 

The escapees hit the Cauberg for the second time with an advantage of 3.20 but there was no big stress as they tackled the landmark climb. At the second passage of the line, the gap was 3.15 and as the peloton had a calm moment, it had gone out to 3.40 with 80km to go.

 

Rodriguez goes down

Van Poppel and Durbridge kept the gap at around 3.30 in the final moment without any stress. However, that didn’t stop Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) from hitting the deck and it took a long time for him to rejoin the peloton.

 

With 65km to go, the attacking started when Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) took off. Björn Thurau (Wanty) and Niccolo Bonifazio (Trek) quickly joined the move and Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) made a big effort to turn it into a quartet. Andriy Grivko (Astana) took off in pursuit.

 

Bole and Clement hit the deck in a bad crash

A bad crash involved Grega Bole (Nippo-Vini Fantini) and Stef Clement (IAM) but that didn’t stop the peloton. Sky took complete control but they were unable to keep the chasers at a short leash. With 55km to go, the gap had gone out to 1.15 as the chasers had reduced their deficit to the leaders to just 1.50. Meanwhile, Maurits Lammertink (Roompot) crashed.

 

Ben Swift took over the pace-setting for Sky and he had reduced the gap to the leaders to 2.50 when they entered the final 50km. At the same time, he brought Grivko back.

 

The break splits up

Rain started to come down just as the finale started and this made the situation very nervous. Meanwhile, the progress of the chasers stopped as they were stuck 1.30 behind the leaders.

 

Grellier went full gas on the Gulpenerberg where he split the breakaway to pieces. Only Montaguti, Bono, Howes, De Vreese, Reza and Warbasse could keep up with him and it was a septet that crested the summit with an advantage of 1.20 over the chasers. In the peloton, Michal Golas set the pace on the climb while riders started to getting dropped.

 

Albasini takes off

Swift went back to work in the peloton after the climb while the chase group picked up Cerny, Didier, and Berlato. They were all sent out the back door as they hit the Kruisberg where van der Sande briefly got a small gap.

 

Reza and Grellier were the next to get dropped from the beak which hit the Eyserbosweg with gaps of 1.30 and 2.15 respectively. In the peloton, Golas was doing all the work for Sky until the attacking started. Michael Albasini launched a strong attack for Orica-GreeNedge but Wout Poels slowly reeled him in for Sky.

 

More attacks

Grellier rejoined the leaders with 36km to go while Bonifazio was dropped from the chase group, leaving Meersman, van der Sande and Thurau with a 2-5second advantage over the peloton. Meanwhile, Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL) launched a short-lived attack before the pace went down as they hit the Fromberg.

 

Preben Van Hecke (Topsport), Jan Bakelants (Ag2r) and Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo) made the next move but Daryl Impey shut it down for Orica-GreenEDGE. He set a brutal pace on the climb to discourage any attacks.

 

Boasson Hagen and Gilbert dropped

The front sextet hit the Keutenberg with a 1-minute gap over the chasers and 1.30 over the peloton. Here van der Sande dropped Thurau and Meersman and they were quickly passed by Lindeman, Dylan Teuns (BMC) and Bakelants who joined van der Sande at the top. Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) tried to bridge the gap but as he had the peloton in tow, the chasers were back in the fold with 30km to go. Surprisingly, Giovanni Visconti who suffered a puncture, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Philippe Gilbert were among the many riders to get dropped.

 

Van der Sande kept riding on the front of the peloton until he got some welcome assistance from Albasini. They entered the final 25km as a 40-rider group with a 40-second deficit to the leaders. Meanwhile, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) punctured out of contention.

 

Kwiatkowski explodes

The group swelled to around 70 riders as they approached the Cauberg for the third time. As soon as they hit the Cauberg for the third time, Grellier was dropped from the breakaway while Mateo Trentin accelerated hard for Etixx-QuickStep. That set Bob Jungels up for an attack and he was joined by Enrico Battaglin (LottoNL-Jumbo). Further back, Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) exploded completely and he left the race as they crossed the line.

 

Albasini and Impey hit the front for Orica-GreenEDGE and they passed the finish just a few second behind the two chasers. The pair quickly gave up and were swallowed up by the peloton moments later.

 

Hayman hit the front

Albasini and Impey slowly reduced the 20-second advantage to 10 seconds which allowed Pieter Serry (Etixx-QuickStep) to bridge across with 15km to go. However, it was all in vain as it was all back together just a few hundred metres later.

 

Mathew Hayman was part of a big group with Boasson Hagen that rejoined the peloton and he went straight to the front to set the pace. Moments later they hit the Bemelerberg where the finale really started.

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