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In an almost identical copy of his 2012 Worlds win, Gilbert launches a fabulous attack on the Cauberg to drop Gerrans, Valverde and Kwiatkowski and solo across the line for his third win at the Amstel Gold Race

Photo: Unipublic / Graham Watson








20.04.2014 @ 17:44 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Three years after his last classics win, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) returned to his winning ways in the Ardennes when he won today's 49th edition of the Amstel Gold Race by putting in an exceptional attack on the final climb of the Cauberg. The Belgian immediately opened up a big gap to his rivals and took a convincing solo win while his former domestique Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol) made a late attack to take second ahead of Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE).


After several years of struggles, Philippe Gilbert may finally be back to his best. Three days after his win at the Brabantse Pijl, he looked like his former self when he took a commanding third win at the first of the Ardennes classics, Amstel Gold Race.


Despite a strong attack in the finale that included Gilbert's teammate Greg Van Avermaet, it all came down to the final climb of the Cauberg where Gilbert has enjoyed so much success in the past. When the finish line was located at the top, he took two Amstel wins and he won the 2012 Worlds in the exact same finish as today's, with the line being located 1800m further down the road.


Gilbert produced an effort that was almost an identical copy of the one he had used to win the rainbow jersey when he put in a very strong acceleration near the midpoint of the climb. Initially, his teammate Samuel Sanchez had attacked, with Simon Gerrans, Michal Kwiatkowski, and Alejandro Valverde being the only ones who could follow the strong Spaniard.


At this point, Gilbert seemed to be struggling a bit and he failed to close the gap in time for Gerrans to produce his counterattack that left Sanchez behind. However, it was all bluffing for Gilbert who put in one of his trademark accelerations on the other side of the road to quickly pass the trio of Gerrans, Kwiatkowski and Valverde.


Gerrans did his best to bridge the gap with Valverde on his wheel but he had no chance to get back to the former world champion. At the top of the climb, Gilbert already had a big gap and as there was no great cooperation in the chase group, he could easily hold them off his chasers to take his third win in the race.


Behind, Jelle Vanedert (Lotto Belisol) benefited from the tactical standstill to join the chase group and when the three fast sprinters looked at each other, he made a smart solo move. No one responded to the lanky Belgian who took off to make it a Belgian 1-2 in the race. Gerrans edged out Valverde in the sprint for third while a clearly fatigued Kwiatkowski took 5th.


The sprint came at the end of a surprisingly non-aggressive race where the early break was allowed to build up a massive gap of almost 15 minutes. That forced the peloton into a hard chase and only the Van Avermaet group tried to repeat Roman Kreuziger's solo win from last year's edition of the race.


Apparently back to his best, Gilbert has marked himself out as a clear contender for the next two Ardennes classics. The triptych of hilly races continues on Wednesday with the Fleche Wallonne which Gilbert won in his fantastic 2011 season.


A hilly course

The 49th edition of Amstel Gold Race took place on a 251.8km course that was completely identical to the one used for the 2013 edition of the race. No less than 34 short, sharp climbs were evenly spread throughout the route that started in Maastricht and ended in Valkenburg, with the Cauberg again playing a prominent role as the riders were set to tackle the famous ascent no less than four times. For the second year in a row, the finish line was located 1800m after the top at the end of a long section of false flat, opening the door for some regrouping and late attacks to take place after the passage of the landmark climb. Furthermore, the finale was again slightly easier as the key climbs of the Keutenberg and Eyserbosweg were again located farther from the finish than they had been in past editions.


Team tactics usually play a big role in the classics and so the big one-day races often get off to a frantic start, with most teams trying to get a rider into the early break. Having taken off under a sunny sky, however, this year's Amstel Gold Race saw its early animators get clear not too long after the start.


The break is formed

Pim Ligthart (Lotto Belisol) was very active in the opening phases as he tried to get clear before the first climb of the Slingerberg. His attacking created an 8-rider group as Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Matej Mohoric (Cannondale), Manuel Belletti (Androni Venezuela), Pirmin Lang (IAM Cycling), Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen), James Vanlandschoot (Wanty Gobert Groupe) and Nicola Boem (Bardiani CSF) joined him.


Jaroslaw Marycz (CCC Polsat) and Christophe Riblon (Ag2r) bridged the gap to the leaders to make it a 10-rider front group and despite its size the peloton allowed the gap to grow massively. At the 15km mark, they were already 4 minutes ahead and after 40km of racing, it was an enormous 13.45.


The chase gets organized

At the first passage of the Cauberg after 54.1km of racing, the escapees were 14.41 ahead but that was as much as they would get. The peloton gradually started to set into motion as BMC, Katusha and Omega Pharma-Quick Step started to chase. At the 80km mark, they had brought the gap down to 12 minutes, working hard to set up their leaders Philippe Gilbert, Joaquim Rodriguez and Michal Kwiatkowski respectively.


At this point, the first big drama took place when a massive crash brought down several main contenders for the race. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) was the biggest name to be forced out of the race while Nicki Sørensen (Tinkoff-Saxo) was also forced out of the race immediately after the accident. Later Arnaud Courteill (FDJ), Thomas Dekker (Garmin), Dan Martin (Garmin), Andy Schleck (Trek), Geraint Thomas (Sky) also withdrew from the race due to their involvement in the crash.


More teams start to chase

The peloton briefly stepped off the gas and allowed the gap to grow back up to 13.45 before Movistar and BMC decided to take up the chase. Michael Schär (BMC), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), and Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Movistar) swapped turns on the front and had the gap down to 8.15 with 100km to go.


At this point, they got some assistance from Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) and those four riders worked together for a long time to gradually reduce their deficit. Meanwhile, Lang punctured out of the breakaway but he was quickly back with his companions.


Alaphilippe shows potential

The hard pace from Movistar, Orica, and BMC briefly split the peloton when 40 riders took off on the narrow roads. However, it quickly got back together but the incident made it obvious while it was important to constantly stay near the front.


When the riders hit the Cauberg for the second time 86km from the line, the gap was down to 6.40. On the ascent, Omega Pharma-Quick Step decided to up the pace as Julian Alaphilippe set a hard tempo all the way up the steep slopes. Afterwards, the young Frenchman continued his work as he joined Herrada, Gutierrez, Schär, and Albasini in the pace-setting.


Alaphilippe left alone

The five riders continued their work while the peloton refueled in the feed zone and made use of a flatter section with 60-70km to go to bring the gap down to less than five minutes. As the race approached the Loorberg, the finale was about to start and the battle for position intensified.


On the run-in to the climb, Schär, Albasini, Gutierrez, and Herrada finished their work and so it was now all left to Alaphilippe. The young Frenchman did an impressive job to lead the peloton single-handedly for several kilometres, bringing the gap down to 3.15 with 47km to go.


The break splits up

At this point, the escapees hit the Gulpenerberg where Boem put in a strong attack. Belletti kept up with him for a short while but quickly fell off the pace. He joined forces with Riblon, Van Hecke, Ligthart, and Lutsenko to form a chase group while Marycz and Lang were a little further back. Vanlandschoot and Mohoric had completely disappeared.


Tony Martin briefly took over the pace-setting for OPQS but as they hit the climb, he stopped and instead the peloton just rolled up the climb. Meanwhile, the chase group had caught Boem to make it a 6-rider escape.


Voeckler takes off

On the run-in to Kruisberg, Martin was unfortunate to crash and even though he was unhurt, he never rejoined the peloton. Giant-Shimano had now taken over on the front, with Koen De Kort leading the chase on the climb.


Over the top of the Kruisweg, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) attacked and he was joined by Zdenek Stybar (OPQS), Van Avermaet, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Pieter Weening (Orica), and Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol) to form a very strong chase group. Meanwhile, the front group had been whittled down to just Riblon, Van Hecke and Boem as the many climbs started to take their toll.


Katusha lead the chase

Katusha had missed the move and so Alberto Losada started to chase hard on the Eyserbosweg climb. The chase group dangled just 10 seconds ahead but he failed to close the gap. Voeckler and Weening both made brief attacks but generally the group worked well together.


On the steep Keutenberg, Riblon put down the hammer and so Boem fell off the pace. Meanwhile, Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha), Simon Clarke (Orica) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) attacked from the peloton and while most were brought back, Kolobnev bridged across to the chasers.


More riders bridge across

Paul Martens (Belkin) and later Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty) also made the junction while Stybar fell off the pace. As there was a brief disruption in the cooperation, Voeckler made another attack with Van Avermaet but the escapees went back to working together.


The attacking continued in the peloton, with Nathan Haas (Garmin), Dominik Nerz (BMC), Clarke, Jan Bakelants (OPQS), Nibali and Angel Vicioso (Katusha) being some of the riders to give it an unsuccessful try. With Stybar back in the peloton, OPQS finally organized a chase, with Michal Golas hitting the front. Later Garmin took over but the gap to the chasers was now 30 seconds.


The chase gets organized

As the riders hit the Cauberg for the penultimate time 20km from the finish, Haas attacked from the peloton as he tried to bridge across to the chasers. As Gorka Izagirre and Benat Intxausti hit the front for Movistar, however, he was quickly brought back as a 50-rider peloton passed the finish line.


OPQS and Movistar combined forces in the chase, with Golas and Intxausti doing a lot of work and when they hit the Geulhemmerweg, the chasers were almost caught. This prompted some of them to attack, with Weening making the first attempt.


Strong attack from Caruso

Fuglsang was the next to try and he was joined by Van Avermaet while the rest of the chase group was caught. The duo caught the front group to make it four riders at the head of the race.


Garmin-Sharp now took over the pace-setting with Ramunas Navardauskas and Fabian Wegmann and they led the peloton onto the Bemelerberg where Van Hecke fell off the pace. Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) made a strong attack to join the leaders while Bakelants and Tom Dumolin (Giant-Shimano) had to fight a bit harder to make the junction.


Orica hit the front

As the group was about to get caught, Van Avermaet made an attack to enjoy a brief solo lead before he was passed by Caruso and Fuglsang. With 8km to go, however, it was back together as Nibali now hit the front to prepare the finish for his teammate Enrico Gasparotto.


Orica-GreenEDGE took over with Pieter Weening, Simon Clarke, Gerrans and Michael Matthews stringing out the peloton in a crosswind section. Marcus Burghardt took over for BMC but it was Golas who led his teammate Kwiatkowski onto the Cauberg for the final time.


Gilbert makes his move

Sanchez put in an immediate attack and was joined by Gerrans, Kwiatkowski, and Valverde. Gilbert was a little further back and seemed to be struggling when Gerrans made his counterattack.


However, Gilbert passed them all on the other side of the road and quickly opened a big gap to Gerrans, Valverde and Kwiatkowski. Gerrans did all the work and left Kwiatkowski behind but he failed to get any closer to Gilbert.


Vanendert secures second

Over the top, Kwiatkowski rejoined the chasers while the lack of cooperation allowed Vanendert to also bridge the gap. Kwiatkowski made a small attack and when he was brought back, Vanendert took off.


Gilbert held on to take a convincing solo win while Vanendert stayed clear to take second. Gerrans beat Valverde and Kwiatkowski in the sprint for third while Simon Geschke (Giant) beat Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Gasparotto and Daniel Moreno (Katusha) in the sprint from the next four-rider group.



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