Enrico Gasparotto wins the Amstel Gold Race after a late attack on the Cauberg with 2km to go. After over six hours of racing the late attack was enough to hold off the sprinters. This was the brief moment the race was won.
Trek-Segafredo’s Fabio Felline jammed his hand between the front wheel and forks and somersaulted into the pavement while Lotto-Soudal’s Tiesj Bennot was a non-starter because of illness. Once the race began there was a lively first hour covering 48km covered. 11 riders finally went clear including Alex Howes of Cannondale who in 2012 made the same move with others including Romain Bardet and the pair stayed away until late in the race. CCC-Sprandi’s Adrian Kurek was also in the move, he made the break in the Milan-Sanremo and is mushrooming into a decent rouleur.
Orica-Greenedge were deploying the tractor beam all day and the 11 riders never had a chance such was their slim lead. Anyone that tried to get away was dragged back. Luke Durbridge was at work for long time on the front and later the others took over, Michael Matthews and his sprint finish was clearly Plan A. Team Sky were also visible at the front and equally interested in locking down the race.
It was on the way to the Keutenberg that things suddenly picked up, the peloton resembled a wasp nest that had been poked and the attacks started to buzz. Yet nothing much was going clear and the presence of the breakaway up the road was ideal for the teams hoping for a sprint up the Cauberg. It meant anyone escaping early would have to work just to get to the front group and then find a queue of wheelsuckers.
As ever a lot of the action was happening at the back of the peloton with crashes and dropped riders. Alexis Vuillermoz and Joaquim Rodriguez were just three of the contenders who found themselves sprawled on the pavement at one point, many suffered the same fate. The Dutch call a crashes a valpartij, a fall party and many were getting on down. Others like Tom Dumoulin had mechanicals and punctures which means game over in this race where the hilly twisting roads mean a chase through the vehicles is hard. Some were just dropped, notably Philippe Gilbert, Diego Ulissi and Edvald Boasson Hagen. Michał Kwiatkowski was out too, iced by a cold downpour that struck the race late on. The Pole can be brilliant at times but also capable of a jours sans in a one day race.
Tim Wellens tried a late attack and got into his customary tuck that involves imaginary tri bars. It obviously works, he won the Eneco Tour with a strong solo attack but behind Orica-Greendge kept the tractor beam switched on and he started the final climb up the Cauberg with only a few seconds lead.
Once again the race sped into the Cauberg only it was missing Philippe Gilbert. Sep Vanmarcke led the charge, the Belgian looking a little out of place, the cobble eater taking a bite of the Ardennes. Then Enrico Gasparotto jumped and Jan Bakelants followed, a contrast of styles with Gasparotto dancing on the pedals and fleet of cleated foot while Bakelants was wrestling with his bike like Crocodile Dundee fighting a Saltie. Sure enough Bakelants cracked and was passed by the seated Michael Valgren who kept the power on. Behind riders craned their necks to find Michael Matthews lurking and so they shut down their efforts. Finally after 246km the race came alive and there was tension. Would Gasparotto and Valgren stay away or would the chase get them?
Valgren began to work and behind the hesitations continued. Jelle Vanendert, the spectral figure who appears once a year in this race, did his turn. Others did too but the chase had no structure and it was as if some, like Petr Vakoč, were deliberately trying to avoid taking a premature pull and hoping someone else would. No such poker for the lead two and by now the finish was in sight. Valgren led and seemed almost generous as his large frame sheltered the waif-like Gasparotto. The Italian jumped, passed and pulled away. Behind Sonny Colbrelli – his father liked Miami Vice, true story – took third place in the sprint with Bryan Coquard fourth and Michael Matthews in fifth place.
Few if any would have predicted the podium but the scenario was too obvious. An attack on the Cauberg versus the efforts of the chasing sprinters: 248km and an uphill sprint. You probably could fit the highlights of the race into a Vine or an animated GIF such was the predictable scenario and outcome. Still you’d have to scrub some subtleties, for example why Gilbert and Dumoulin were not around the last time up the Cauberg. The previous Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix showed how great a race can be only for this one to show us how others can’t always guarantee the action.
Try as some might the chance of an attack working before the Cauberg seems minimal and Tim Wellen’s brave move showed it, not only was he reeled in but he was solo as nobody else wanted to try. Gasparotto’s name is inscribed in history but this wasn’t a memorable race. You feel for the Dutch public who love the sport and surely deserve a better spectacle. Can the course be changed?
Gasparotto won before in 2012 when his team was whispered to be working with Michele Ferrari, now the focus was on Wanty-Groupe Gobert’s loss and the Italian gave an eloquent interview in English about the death of Antoine Demoitié with thoughts about family, life and more that went far beyond the usual interview clichés. For someone who’d spent six hours racing, climbing 34 hills and avoiding the polynesia of traffic islands this was a creditable and eloquent discourse. His win was tactically perfect, staying hidden until it mattered and then launching one decisive move.
“Uphill sprint week” continues with La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday and then Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The latter has a new cobbled climb to spice up the finale but it’s late in the race.