The Moment The Race Was Won: Amstel Gold Race

The Amstel Gold Race is a race of repetition. Repeat enough small climbs and you get a total vertical gain close to an Alpine stage of the Tour de France. The Cauberg is climbed repeatedly. And today Philippe Gilbert repeated exactly the same move that won him the world championship road race in 2012. On the last time up the Cauberg he attacked hard on the inside of the bend, the steepest part of the climb and immediately distanced everyone else and over the top he had a tailwind to help speed him to the finish line.

The early break formed with 11 riders and some tough names. If there’s a classic where going up the road early can pay it’s the Amstel Gold Race. Given the constant climbs and descents, whether you are up the road or inside the bunch doesn’t make such a big difference to the effort. Among the fugitives was Cannondale’s Matej Mohorič who won the junior road title in 2012 on the Cauberg, now back for 250km.

Road safety
Another argument to go up the road is accident prevention. All that street furniture is designed to make the roads safer but not when a bunch is trying to squeeze past at 60km/h. Joaquim Rodriguez crashed out early proving his lucky hotel has lost its charm. Other accidents took out Dan Martin, Niki Sorensen, Jurgen Van den Broeck, Andy Schleck and Geraint Thomas among others.

Repeat episode
TV viewers could have felt they were watching a repeat. For a long time there was no action, just scenes of a bunch chasing a breakaway, almost an animated GIF on a loop: a tidy village, a sharp corner, a steep climb, a short descent to another tidy village. But like watching a series for the second time you begin to pick out the details. A bunch chasing? Yes but look how tight the bunch is, riders were under pressure to fight for their place from a long way out and as much as it looked procedural on TV it was stressful inside the bunch.

Voeckler Show
Thomas Voeckler took off with 39km to go taking several riders with him including Greg Van Avermaet, Jacob Fuglsang, Zdeněk Štybar, Pieter Weening. Voeckler stood out, his body moving in many directions as he tried to make his bike go forward. If he played tennis he’d surely grunt with ever stroke.

The Voeckler counter-attack was confused, a collection of riders each out for themselves but while thinking of their team. Contradictory? Not at all, they didn’t want to ride too hard in the break and many could play the team card, the “I’ve got my team leader waiting in the bunch” gambit.

Up ahead and the Keutenberg thinned the early break to two riders: Ag2r’s Christophe Riblon and Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise’s Preben Van Hecke. A moment to celebrate the Topsport team, they might not win much but they animate many a race.

Riblon and Van Hecke led the penultimate time up the Cauberg but all the narrow climbs were gone and so their escape bid looked doomed. Behind the Voeckler group still looked hesitant and over the top Greg Van Avermaet and Jacob Fuglsang took off just as the group was about to be caught. It looked futile in the sense that neither was going to win but it was a good tactical ploy as it forced others to chase, Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Garmin-Sharp notably. Van Avermaet again animated a race and with hindsight it was perfect for Gilbert but maybe he can use the rest period to take up poker, chess or another tactical game where you learn to let your opponents reveal their hand before you make your move.

Round to the Bemelerberg and Fuglsang and GVA caught the Riblon-Van Hecke tandem was caught, almost 240km in the break for them. Katusha fired off Dani Moreno but the climb wasn’t steep enough and if he scorched across to lead four with Jan Bakelants and Tom Dumoulin in pursuit, he was left without much more to do, the open plateau with with its spinning windmill left him looking like Don Quixote. He’s looking ready for the Flèche Wallonne.

So it came to the Cauberg as the bunch sped into Valkenburg, the pitch of the TV camera moto’s engine getting higher and higher as the bunch, led by OPQS’s Michał Gołaś, were spinning out their gears. Up the Cauberg and a red jersey went on the right, it was BMC’s Samuel Sanchez. He was chased by Simon Gerrand and Alejandro Valverde. Then on the other side of the road Gilbert reached for his best hits album and pounced.

As seen in 2012

Taking the steepest line while Gerrans, Valverde and Michał Kwiatkowski were initially over on the other side of the road Gilbert got an instant gap, surfing the sweetspot between his raw power and the momentum needed to ride away. Flags waved by the crowds signalled a big tailwind and over the top Gilbert was away and started to increase his advantage. It looked laboured and less fluent than in 2012 but apparently his time over the Cauberg and to the finish was faster:

With one kilometre to go Gilbert had nine seconds. Kwiatkowski tried to follow but for the chasers this was a glass-half-empty scenario: to pull Gilbert back was unlikely and if they tried, they’d tow someone else to the line and probably fall off the podium. Still Jelle Vanendert plucked up some Dutch courage and took off to claim second place with the ever-reliable Simon Gerrans in third place.

The Verdict
A tense race which came alive at the end. Huge crowds make it a good spectator event and the TV viewer had to wait for the final 40km for the tension to pick up. Thomas Voeckler was the catalyst but his move was the only serious attack before the Cauberg, Dani Moreno’s Bemelerberg move always looked doomed. At one point it seemed a bunch sprint was possible but this was an enticing scenario given it’s so rare. But the fourth time up the Cauberg saw the race explode. Gilbert had played the waiting game and unleashed his trade mark final effort to cap a solid team effort by BMC with Van Avermaet and Samuel Sanchez setting him up for the finish.

Looking ahead to the coming week Gilbert’s in a comfortable position and Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne offers an exciting finish where his explosivity will be tested against the climbing speed of others. One of the British journos called this week “uphill finish week” and with it comes the repetition of seeing the same riders in the mix because the demands are the same. But even that holds this week it’ll be fascinating to see how it’s done. We don’t know how bad Joaquim Rodriguez’s injuries are but he’s got a capable understudy in Moreno. If Gilbert was the best today, he saved his effort for the final 90 seconds, something that’s almost impossible for next Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

1 GILBERT Philippe BMC Racing Team 06:25:57
2 VANENDERT Jelle Lotto-Belisol @00:04
3 GERRANS Simon Orica Greenedge @00:08
4 VALVERDE Alejandro Movistar Team ,,
5 KWIATKOWSKI Michał Omega Pharma – Quick-Step ,,
6 GESCHKE Simon Team Giant-Shimano ,,
7 MOLLEMA Bauke Belkin Pro Cycling ,,
8 GASPAROTTO Enrico Astana Pro Team ,,
9 MORENO Daniel Team Katusha ,,
10 ARASHIRO Yukiya Team Europcar ,,

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

  1. Great race and great review as ever. Thanks Mr Inner Ring.

    It’s also good to see Gilbert opening his account early and keeps on flowing this year.

  2. Worthy winner of a race that never really lived up to expectations.

    Some observations. TV coverage poor, generally of sixties quality. Kopgroep described as a climb gave some brief and humorous respite from the uninformed Eurosport commentary (SK excepted). On screen graphics unreliable.

    SKY sports2 coverage – they will not have been impressed by the performance of their own team. As an aside, what is going on at SKY ?

    Well supported by the public.

    • Not at all sure what Sky’s idea was playing out both Thomas and Boasson Hagen in this race. They looked tired to me and could have done with a break if you ask me. Surely, there is plenty of talent at Sky to take their place in AGR. Not many came from Paris-Roubaix and did well in Amstel, apart from maybe Björn Leukemans (PR – 15th/AGR – 11th).

  3. Text book stuff from Pip, made that look so easy. Suprised he wasn’t marked more closely at the point of his attack. How fresh did he look on his “throne”.

    • We didn’t see it on TV so easily but he probably switched across the road and benefited from the others chasing down Samuel Sanchez, it gave him that small space that meant nobody could get on his wheel.

    • Textbook indeed: Sporza showed a split-screen of the 2012 World Championships and today’s race and Phil attacked at almost identical points on the climb. He said in post-race that the plan was to send Samu up the right side of the road, knowing that his favored left side provides a shorter distance. Gerrans, Valverde and Kwiatkowski took the bait, and as soon as Gerrans sat back down it was done.

      BMC really strong as a team too (GVA, Schar, Burghardt, Samu), I am impressed. I reckon Alan Peiper and Valerio Piva have quite a bit to do with their success too.

  4. Caught the last 15 minutes but sounds like I didn’t miss much. Surprising nobody marked him close but easier said than done.

    Good to see Gilbert back, he’ll enjoy the next week and I suspect he’s making plans for July and the Gerardmer stage.

  5. A good win for Gilbert but equally pleased that Jelle Vanendert got second after all the work he did for Gilbert in his 2011 run.

  6. Another typical Amstel Cauberg race but still very entertaining. I didn’t see the early crashes (hoping everyone is alright!) but Tony Martin did a big bush dive at an unfortunate moment when the race was just about to start in earnest. Bad luck for him. I’d love to see Van Avermaet winning a race. He’s been so good this spring.

    • According to Sky he got taken out by someone swerving to answer the call of nature. I wonder if he has a peripheral vision problem or perhaps it’s those awful shades he wears.

      • Perhaps in this case, the problem was with the other rider’s incontinence. Presumably even when the dams about to burst on the Huang He, it’s the would-be micturator’s responsibility not to take someone else out. Maybe it’s just difficult when your legs are crossed.

        • “the dams about to burst on the Huang He”

          hahaha, that’s so brilliant. Are you Chinese? Westerners would probably use yellow river.

  7. A great race today. As usual with Amstel it’s a case of the break being caught at the last moment, probably down to the thin roads, incecent climbing and of course a tough headwind!

    Note Arashiro in tenth place, I have a feeling that this is a great year for him, and that in the coming years he may well find himself on a “more Classic” team and perhaps in the running for a high finish. Just a thought.

    • A great ride by Arashiro. I mentioned him in the preview because he’s in great form and I hope he gets a result soon, he’s a punchy rider with a fast finish. If not this week then maybe in Romandie or a race like the 4 Days of Dunkerque,

  8. Seriously impressed by Michal Kwiatkowski today who looked super strong coming into the final accent of the Cauberg. Possibly inexperience and over eager with early attack following 1st Sammy Sanchez then Gerrans. Looked as though Stybar was called back from the break to support him once it looked inevitable they would be caught showing the team had full confidence in him. Super domestic ride from Golas all day, but sure he launched Kwiatkowski too early on the final climb, possibly missed experience of Tony Martin in the latter stages? Roll on la flèche… excited to see what he can do…

    • Kwiatkowski is very good and still just 23. I don’t think anyone knows his limits: stage racer, classics specialist, even a grand tour champion. Time will tell and like you say, Gołaś was doing a big job to help him. OPQS had a very strong team with Bakelants, Poels and Martin… we’ll see if they can win in the next week.

    • Good point, Lele! I suppose it does finish. So, that’s why he has trained extra hard this passed winter! Another three year deal with big money from BMC and he will face no financial worries for a very long time.

  9. Good tactics by BMC, sending Sanchez ahead as the decoy. Given Gilberts track record up the Cauberg and his recent form I do wonder why there wasn’t a more serious effort from some of the other teams to create a late break that would stick. It was a race for second place really once they hit the final climb.

  10. This article was more entertaining than the race, which wasn’t selective enough. If a break with Voeckler, Fuglsang, Weening, Van Avermaet and Stybar, with 37km to go, looks doomed, and so many guys get to the end all fresh and dandy in the bunch, something is wrong. Either the race was too slow, too controlled, too easy to control, or it needs 40 hilly kilometers more. Disenchanting.

  11. I can just picture Alan Pieper, a tougher than tough racer and (one of the few) mate(s) of a young Robert Millar had at Peugot, back in day, giving his DS’s pre-race speech to the assembled, snug aboard the BMC battle waggon…(Oz-accent to the fore) “And Greggo make sure you do no bloody work till the last ten kay, if your break’s not bin caught, nip off the front sharpish mate, and make them bugger’s from Orica chase us. Right Sammy, first biggie on the Cauberg , cane it mate, and that should leave Phil the inside line. OK Guys? Any bloody quiztions?”
    Yup, you’ve got to hand it to BMC, they rode a cracking race. “Bloody Perfict”

    • I’ve got video with Peiper as a rider giving a management lesson in the 1980s and need to get round to editing and uploading it as it suggests he was cut out from the start to be a good manager. Then again as much as people are crediting him with the success at BMC, as said before on here, it should be the easiest turn-around job in the sport given the talented roster who can and should win often at the highest level.

      • Surely this is the bigger context story here. BMC have been good all year and look sharper and hungrier.

        If Tejay has a good TdF it would be a more obvious observation that Alan Peiper has put in place what has been lacking at BMC

      • It was at Pieper’s suggestion that Phil skip the early cobbled races and concentrate on the Ardennes. That is, don’t spread yourself too thinly.

        Already two wins from two races = success.

  12. Seemed like there was extra road furniture added this year. Maybe it was just more noticeable because bright orange pillow were tied to them. Reminded me of a ski slalom course. Made me nervous just watching.

  13. Great review of the race once again!
    There were some interesting moves along the way. I’d love to see the race a bit more selective in the future, though. It’s too much a bunch sprint towards the final Cauberg now.

    On Sporza they said it was Caruso (with Bakelants and Dumoulin) instead of Moreno, though. Would make sense, I don’t think Moreno would try from that far out, seems to risky. But can’t be sure.

  14. nice article

    one remark: Yesterday the wind was blowing at 7 m/s (25 km/h) not 7 km/h. (look at the flags, they are stretched) That’s a lot of difference. So Gilbert did had a lot of help of the tailwind.

      • FYI – On a 6% average gradient at 33 km/h for a rider of around Gilbert’s weight, the power required with a tailwind of of 7m/s would be ~15% less than with a tailwind of 7km/h.

        And 22% less power than required with no wind.

        Of course riders just go hard in such scenarios, and the speed is then what it is.

        Wind at rider level can be somewhat variable though. Even so, it doesn’t take much wind to make a lot of difference to the power demand at a given speed (or the speed for a given power).

        Even a 7km/h tailwind at rider level on such a climb and speed reduces the power demand by 10% compared with no wind ride.

  15. I’m curious to find out if it’s just me who thinks that this race with it’s really interesting and detailed course over many small roads with a lot of ramps which should favor break away groups deserves a less predictable finale. I mean it’s not only that PG wins again which I’m o.K. with since those long uphill sprints have become his outstanding trademark specialty. But even in those years when he did not win, since they moved the finale to the Cauberg, it nearly always came down to the sprint from the main group on the finale ascent of that climb with Kreuziger’s and Vino’s wins last year beeing the sole exceptions.
    I consider it boring if you already know that you won’t miss much when you only switch on the telly with 15 k to go. Considering that this is professional sport which should have the highest interest in entertaining the biggest possible number of spectators in order to transport all the messages from its sponsors I would like to see the course final modified in order to make sure that this race might as well end in a different way.
    But maybe that is just me. Would be interesting to read your thoughts, guys.

  16. Simple answer. Just take away the DSs power toy the radio. Fewer crashes – 200 riders will not all be instructed to ‘get to the front’ at the same time, and more unpredictable and attacking racing. Radios make every one day race appear just like every other one day race, and every stage race the same as the one last week. There is nothing clever nor necessary about what DSs are doing – even CK has almost worked out the method ! Exciting it certainly is not.

    • While I am no fan of race radio, it is not the fix it seems. It would add some unpredictability and the likely return of the long breakaway specialist. But, the road features make this race what it is.

      Go back to the days of the peloton boss orchestrating the race until an hour-long blast into the finish and the net effect is close to the same. Let’s imagine no peloton boss and the teams sorting out the racing on the road and the racing is pretty similar.

      Bike racing, like distance running, has that same issue of tuning into the last 15K for most races. The more dedicated fan tunes in for the whole broadcast.

  17. Well, you may be right, although quality riders like Merkx, Hinault, Kelly, Simpson, or in the EPO era Pantani , Jalebert, Boonen, Museuw or Viranque to name just a few, never really only concerned themselves with the final 15Ks. Of course there were and are riders that adopt the 15K approach – Armstrong, Van Looy,(in his later days) Zoetemelk plus todays sprinters and some climbers to name but a few.

    That is the whole point. A true battle between the aggressive, exciting chancers, and we all love real chancers, or the somewhat predictable 15K waiters ! Of course banning radios will not be a instant cure, but I would wager it would enliven races, as illustrated in many non WT events where radios are not allowed.

    To allow riders to show their worth by thinking, attacking riding, which might, just might succeed, has to be far better than watching zombies being controlled by people conferring and doing deals with each other whilst sitting comfortably in a car watching a TV screen. The only excitement, if you can call it excitement, they generate are crashes caused by everyone being given the same instruction at the same time or the aggressors being caught within sight of the finish.

    Three weeks of the TdF makes the point of banning radios very well !

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