Amstel Gold Race: The Moment The Race Was Won

A thrilling finale with tension all the way to the final metres. Philippe Gilbert has eased up and Oscar Freire has been caught. Now Jelle Vanendert and Peter Sagan sprint for the line but behind them Enrico Gasparotto of Astana starts to accelerate. The Italian tracked the leaders up the final climb and timed his sprint to perfection to surge past in the last 20 metres. This was the moment the race was won.

It was cold on the start line. Even 1200km away in Spain icy conditions were making riders protest ahead of the Vuelta Castilla y Léon stage. Back in the Netherlands seven riders got a prompt warm up as they jumped away after 40km of racing and were joined by two more riders. But there was dispute in the break, they’d taken 12 minutes on the bunch when race radio reported a small fist fight broke out between riders in the breakaway. Apparently they were bickering over when to stop for a pee. This bizarre incident saw the lead fall to eight minutes in no time.

Behind the pace was picking up although those watching on Eurosport still found more entertainment in the ad breaks, for example watching Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali cooking a shoe.

Back to the race and the bunch deftly navigated archipelagos of traffic islands and at times the race looked like a promotional tour for an urban planning catalogue with bollards, islands and more sleeping policemen than a hot afternoon in Mexico. Instead it was the rural sections that took their toll with the narrow lanes provoking a series of punctures and the hills did some early damage as riders were being dropped including Cadel Evans.

A word to celebrate Alex Howes (Garmin-Barracuda) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale). The two neo-pros were in the day’s breakaway but when the gap started to fall towards a minute it was Bardet who attacked to get rid of the tired riders. A few riders joined him and then again he went and only Howes could, or would, follow. The pair held off the bunch and climbed the penultimate climb of the Keutenberg when Bardet ditched Howes and carried on solo, only being caught with 10km to go. Not bad for a neo pro.

By now the bunch had been shredded by the climbing and about 30 riders were left and Oscar Freire took off with 10km to go. Always a surprise to see a sprinter on the attack but it was a good move for his team with team mate Joaquim Rodríguez behind. It made BMC and Lampre chase and in time Astana joined.

With 2km to go Freire led by 12 seconds when Nicki Terpstra jumped from the bunch and closed in Freire but the chase was not far behind. A lone rider reaching the final climb needs a decent buffer and neither Terpstra or Freire were going to resist, although for a brief moment we got to a glimpse of Freire’s climbing style.

If today was a day of surprise, the biggest wonder of the day was Philippe Gilbert. He led the chase up the Cauberg right from the start and kept churning a huge gear only to be passed shortly before the finish line. Let’s use the conditional for a moment: what if he had a team mate to do some of the work? And if he was feeling more confident, maybe he would not have put out such an effort so early? Maybe he could have won?

amstel caduta cunego sprint cauberg sky lampre

But he didn’t. No ifs as Sky’s Lars Petter Nordhaug and Lampre’s Damiano Cunego butted and crashed hard. Ahead of the damage Peter Sagan, Jelle Vanendert and Enrico Gasparotto were perfectly placed behind Gilbert and put time into the others. Look at the photo and you can see the trio. With Astana’s Maxim Iglinskiy to block on one side and Terpstra slowing on the others, Vanendert and Sagan had the momentum to get Gilbert back.

Gilbert’s giant pull allowed the four to finally reel in Freire and Gasparotto led the chase on the final part of the rise. But as soon as the slope eased so did Gilbert. Sagan led out the sprint with Vanendert then Gasparotto. For a moment in time at 20 metres to go we got three riders side by side for the sprint… but only because Gasparotto had the momentum and was surging clear for the win, leaving Vanendert banging the handlebars in a rage of cliché. It was a perfectly timed move.

Was it a surprise win? Well Gasparotto is an expert in uphill finishes; few had him down for the win but a podium was always possible. After all, look at the photo evidence from the Amstel podium in 2010.

If anything Gasparotto brings other surprises. Today saw the first Italian win in a classic since 2009 when Davide Rebellin won the Flèche Wallonne. A late starter in cycling, Gasparotto in the youth squad of AC Milan, one of the most prestigious clubs in Italian soccer. He’s also the son of a winegrower in Friuli… who today won the Dutch race sponsored by a brewery.

31 thoughts on “Amstel Gold Race: The Moment The Race Was Won”

  1. So did the odds on Oscar getting a fourth worlds just narrow a little? particularly with the finish further along the same road. Perhaps one of the few times that he has showed his face before the final 100m when he maybe he should have stayed tucked in as he usually does, particularly with Purito not up to scratch after Oscar softened everyone else up for him.

    oh, to be a cycle sport fan…bring on Wednesday!

  2. Good write-up. It was a surprise for the TV commentators who thought it was Iglinsky. They were silent for a moment and they corrected it to Gasparotto.

  3. “Let’s use the conditional for a moment: what if he had a team mate to do some of the work?”

    And had they still been on the same team, that would probably have been Vanendert. In fact looking at a video it was Vanendert who pulled Gilbert up to Andy Schleck in 2011 before Rodriguez jumped and Gilbert chased him down alone — from about the same distance that he went after Freire today, by the look of it.

    • Yes. He had Santambrogio doing a lot of work in the final 10km, eg containing Freire but nobody beside him for the Cauberg. As you say Vanendert made the difference and this year they were rivals. Vanendert could be a surprise for the Fl­èche Wallonne on Wednesday but I suspect those caught behind the crash might want something to say.

      • In fairness to GVA, he rode long and hard for Gilbert today, but he’s no 60kg mountain goat to be there after 250+ kms up the Cauberg. Had Cadel been in peak form (abandoned missing the split before the Cauberg), he might have had a fierce uphill sprint in him (note last year’s TDF uphill sprint-win over Contador, before El Pistolero’s knee became an issue).

        Why was Santambrogio not on the roster today, or Mathias Frank, who can climb and sprint? I don’t think BMC had their best roster for today’s race, but Cadel’s abandonment really surprised me.

  4. Gasparatto was the smartest today, he had the timing and the fresh legs for the sprint!

    Sagan’s gotta be pounding his head on the wall with another (just) miss, but his youth and athletic prowess will bring him to the top step many times; once he has his perfect form, timing and tactics all jiving, there’ll be no stopping him! To fade and take 3rd was seen in his expression at the finish of the race.

    Gotta hand it to some super domestiques who battled very hard today. Bravo Bardet (!) for an exceptional display of endurance, and Howes for battling back and back before he finally cracked.
    GVA rode a heck of a race for Gilbert, sacrificing his own chances at the foot of the Cauberg, only to have Gilbert jump too soon after Freire to lose his legs in the sprint. Once again, old man Freire doesn’t disappoint, even if he faded into 4th. Gilbert’s almost there…the next week will possibly show us that he’s back in form (?)

    Where was Rodriguez? Sanchez? Valverde? No legs today. Evans and Breschel abandoned for BMC and Rabobank, big disappointments there. Gesink was dropped (the Dutch will be drowning their woes in good beer tonight, both Rabo and Vacansoleil not in the final mix).

    Voeckler always impresses me with his endurance and put in another great race to take 5th — great week for him.

    Gerrans, JVdB, Rojas, Chavanel (he’s been racing non-stop), Martin all suffered in this race of attrition today.

    Surprise podium, except Sagan. Great race!

    I gotta hand it to Freire who attacked from 7 kms to work up a 12-second lead. He knew he didn’t have the legs for the sprint and he used his smarts and experience to do the next best thing.

    Lastly, SKY had another tough day. EBH made some good (though short-lasted) attempts inside 15 kms, gained 100 meters on the Keutenberg but was quickly swallowed up. His form isn’t there yet, but like Sagan, he’s a powerhouse that’ll be unleashed later in the season, I have no doubt!

      • Yeah but clearly they didn’t have the legs to be in the front during the crucial bits of the climb. Previous editions of the race have always been won by the person who was in the front 4 or 5 hitting the bottom of the Cauberg. Sagan should’ve jumped when Freire went, they would’ve stayed away in my opinion.

  5. One of the most boring editions I have ever seen. Looked like the favourites couldn’t or wouldn’t attack earlier and trusted on their sprint uphill. However, the final 5km’s and the final sprint compensated a lot.

    A lot of names disappointed, which resulted in a top 10 with a lot of riders from the second row.

    • As it were, some of the favorites got caught up behind the crash as INRNG pointed out, but having Sagan, Freire, Voeckler, Gilbert and Sanchez all in the Top 10, I wouldn’t call these “second row” riders. All of these riders were potential podium finishers, with Voeckler as a dark horse pick.

      The Cunego-Nordhaug crash ruined the chances for Gerrans @ :19, Valverde and Rodriguez @ :22.

      BMC pushed the pace hard (for Gilbert) with about 20 km to go, but Gilbert and GVA had
      Santambrogio as their only domestique still in the race; Evans was fighting an infection and abandoned, along with Quinziato and Kohler, so Gilbert was left on his own for the final sprint up the Cauberg. GVA put in a hell-of-a-day for Gilbert, but Gilbert needed a climber-sprinter’s wheel to set him up.

      EBH attacked on the penultimate climb inside of 15 km, but didn’t have his legs today and was swiftly swallowed up. Then of course Freire attacked with 7 km to go and we all know how the race turned out. Anything can happen on any given day.

  6. Nice write up. Not meant as bashing, as is popular on cycling fora, but RAB and VAC’s absence was remarkable, this being their home race. Rabobank lowered expectations before the race, stating they would not carry the race like in other years – it could explain why it took a whole lot of time before the final break away riders were caught. Only Mollema, who made his AGR-debut, managed to be up front and clocked in 10th. Martens and Gesink simply missed the cut. And what about Breschel? He didn’t race Roubaix for being fresh today.
    Vacansoleil had three aces to play as well, but didn’t really leave an impression. Only Hoogerland could be seen in the final 15k. Poels and local boy Ruijgh (lives in Valkenburg) cracked before the going got tough.

    Anyway, it’s easy to critise while sitting in an arm chair. I’m sure both teams aimed for better results and there’s probably reasons why they didn’t succeed.

    • Yes, I’m feeling sorry for Rabo especially as their season is not going well at all. But maybe their climbing guys will deliver the goods in the summer. You can understand one or two guys having bad luck from time to time but not so many, so often.

  7. Bardet & Howes still finished in top 30 less than a minute down on winner. That says something as well. Pretty amazing their perfomance.

    • True but being caught on the descent of the Keutenberg meant they were able to jump on the back of the passing group.

      Out of interest, is “peloton krupka pl” a website under development?

  8. Nice write-up!

    From a norwegian point of view, it’s a shame that Nordhaug was torpedoed by Cunego in the finale. It wasn’t EBH, but Nordhaug that was Sky’s captain today. This would have been his breakthrough, and as he said after the stage, he wasn’t a bit tired before the fall.

    Also, others were caught up behind the fall. Damned italian little prince…

  9. Good piece, and although I generally dislike “youtube cycling”, where the real action lasts about 2 minutes, and one doesn’t have the time to savour the race and the riders’ efforts, today was a good one for its kind. Gilbert has is back, which is great news, and Gasparotto deservedly made Sagan wait a little more for his first major victory. Let’s see part 2 of the show on Wednesday, although Trentino looks more interesting with its murderous climbs, and that’s where climbers should be, not fighting Gilbert and Valverde in Huy…

    • Gasparotto did try an earlier attack. I didn’t see it on TV but browsing through the photos for the piece above he was going clear on the Keutenberg. In other words, he wasn’t hiding for the “youtube summary”.

      As you say Trentino looks special this year but with cold weather across Europe now including a lot of rain in Italy I hope this clears in time for the Queen Stage.

  10. Really good read.

    I’m wondering why Freire attacked. He held his own on the climb right to the end, with this kind of form he could beaten some of these guys, no?

    • Thanks and a good point about Freire. I think he had 20 seconds on the chasers but with them he could have possibly been there for the sprint… on the condition of being on the right wheel. But he was playing the team card with Joaquim Rodriguez; didn’t work this time.

    • Freire had a 13 second lead coming into the Cauberg, and if not for the crash would have been lucky to finish top 10. I think he made the right move for himself and the team (the assumption must have been that J-Rod had the legs)

  11. INRNG… Per one of your tweets during live coverage on cyclingnews….What about the “cat spat” mentioned regarding the breakaway arguing when to pee? Any graham watson shots of the antics? It can be quite a chuckle when racers in plastic bike shoes weighing all of 60kg each start flailing 5cm diameter limbs at each other. LOL

  12. As this race was nothing short of exceptionally boring until the final 10k, i took the opportunity to watch the Tro Bro Leon. A HUGE congratulations need to go out to Canadian’s Ryan Roth and Guillaume Boivin, winner and 3rd place finisher both from Team SpiderTech, the canadian pro-continental squad which just netted it’s first European race win in it’s history!

    Very big day for this well run outfit put together by none other than Steve Bauer.

    • I heard it was an awesome win by our Canadian boys. Just wanted to point out that Svein Tuft got Spidertech’s first European win last year, in the UCI 1.1 GP Stad Zottegem, which is in Belgium. Either way, it was a big day for Canadian cycling, and with the way Bovin is riding this year, he’ll start getting some wins sooner rather than later. 1st in the field sprint today, and always in the thick of things in the bunch sprints.

  13. Wish I had learnt the lesson of last year and tuned in for the last 10 or so km. At least with Fleche we know only the last kilometre is worth watching.

    Really disappointed that Freire got caught today, hope he can show this form at the Worlds.

  14. I’m increasingly impressed by BMC’s desire to take the race by the horns thus far this season in many key events. It’s easy to look back and say they should have conserved some firepower here or there but it can be argued that they’re riding like the Patron team in the pack. So many other teams following wheels and hoping for a lucky opening not of their own making. I counted multiple Movistar riders in today’s finale but they were invisible. So too Rabo, Saxo, Radioshack.

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