Sergei Ivanov (Katusha) won the 44th edition of the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday in a dramatic two-up sprint with Saxo Bank’s Karsten Kroon as a frantic chase fell just a few seconds short of success.
“For me it’s the biggest win of my career,” said a clearly delighted Ivanov after emerging the strongest of a final three-man break that also included Robert Gesink (Rabobank), who hung on for third on the steeps of the Cauberg, just a few seconds ahead of the charging peloton.
“I started my sprint with Karsten but he was on my right, so I took him all the way to the right and he had to brake,” Ivanov said, reenacting the move at the press conference. “I am 34 years old and maybe I just have more experience.
“This is a great day for the team,” he added, referring to his Russian-financed squad. “All the Russians worked hard to achieve this result. I have been coming here since 1998 and I knew that I could do something special.”
Ups and downs
The 258.6km Amstel Gold is a surprisingly hilly affair in a country normally thought of as pan flat. The course features 31 climbs in all, the largest being the Cauberg, which riders cover three times. It’s not an easy one, either, offering steep grades of up to 12 percent. The last trip up the Cauberg marks the finish and is the reason this race is often won by riders viewed to be strong stage racers rather than typical classics stars.
A six-man break went early in the race and built a 14-minute lead over the main field by the 82km mark, when the race hit the Cauberg for the first time. The escapees included Yukiya Arashiro (Bouygues Telecom); Sergei Klimov (Katusha); Niki Terpstra (Milram); Rubens Bertogliati (Diquigiovanni); Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano); and Borut Bozic (Vacansoliel).
Caisse d’Epargne and Rabobank led the chase, taking the gap down to three minutes with 81km to race.
Three-time world road champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank), making his return to the ProTour following a broken clavicle suffered at the Amgen Tour of California in February, ramped up the pace on the Geulhemmerweg and caused a split in the bunch that saw a chase of some 20 riders close to within 45 seconds of the lead six.
Terpstra then attacked his breakaway mates and rode off alone with less than 65km to race. Behind, Freire had another dig and took a pair of riders with him, among them Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Slipstream). That chase swelled to a half-dozen, sweeping up remnants of the original break and keeping the solo Milram rider within 20 seconds as the race summited the 23rd climb of the day.
Freire gives it the gas
Arashiro and Timmer fell off the pace on the next ascent, and Freire went once more, taking Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas) with him. The two quickly caught Terpstra, and Marcus Burghardt (Columbia-Highroad) followed, making it a foursome out front with a margin of some 15 seconds.
Freire kept punching it over every rise as behind, a former Tour de France champion — Caisse d’Epargne’s former Tour de France winner Oscar Pereiro — led the chase for Alejandro Valverde.
Fifty kilometers from the finish the break held just 15 seconds on the pursuit and the chase appeared to lose some of its urgency as the road rose and fell. The break hit the Wolfsburg with a lead of 20-some-odd seconds on the Caisse d’Epargne-led pursuit, with Valverde riding in second wheel and Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam) moving up.
Chris Anker Sørensen (Saxo Bank) then attacked out of the chase and bridged to the leaders as Terpstra finally blew, followed by Burghardt. As the pursuit gobbled up the crumbling breakaway Dries Devenyns (Quick Step) launched out of the bunch and quickly opened a gap with 35km to race.
Devenyns dangled just off the front for the next few kilometers as behind a crash briefly disrupted the chase. Then Michael Rogers (Columbia) and Koen de Kort (Skil-Shimano leapt across the gap to join the Quick Step man off the front.
The escapees were snatched up on the 26th climb of the day, the Gulperberg, and another small group formed up — Enrico Gasparatto (Lampre-N.G.C.), Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), Rogers, Devenyns and Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) — going into the next ascent, the Kreuzberg. That group, too, was retrieved, but Schleck continued to push the pace, trying to force another selection.
Ivanov makes his move
On the 28th climb of the day, the Eyserbosweg, Gasparatto, Sastre, Thomas Dekker and Schleck were all hovering near the front when Katusha’s Ivanov shot away, nearly rocketing into the shrubbery as he overcooked the descent. Then Kreuziger tore open a small gap going into the narrow ascent of the Fromberg.
Ivanov regained his composure and took off after Kreuziger, marked by Vincenzo Nibali, who declined to work going into the penultimate climb of the day, the Keutenberg. Simon Gerrans (Cervélo) was next to go, dogged by Ivanov and the remainder of the peloton, and Kreuziger’s time off the front was done with 12km to race.
Schleck punched it once more, trying to force a selection. Gesink countered and took off alone with 10km to go. Ivanov and Kroon quickly followed and it was a threesome off the front.
With less than 8km the trio had a 20-second lead over the pursuit, driven by Silence-Lotto with an assist from Quick Step. As the chase closed to within six seconds, Kroon punched it on the Cauberg and Ivanov followed — Gesink was briefly distanced, then got back on just in time to see Ivanov jump and Kroon counter. Suddenly it was a two-man race on the leg-snapping Cauberg.
Ivanov led the way with 200 meters remaining, and Kroon just couldn’t summon the power to come around — the Russian had plenty of time to sit up and celebrate his victory as a weary Gesink trailed in for third. Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto) took fourth while last year’s winner, Damiano Cunego (Lampre), crossed fifth.
“I’ve had two weeks off to think about this race,” said Ivanov. “I like these short, steeper mountains more than the long mountains. Since 75km to go the group was going faster and faster. The last 25km was very hard, just like it is every year.”
Kroon said he was surprised by Ivanov’s strength in the finale.
“Sergei wasn’t able to pull with 2km to go and I thought he wasn’t as strong as us. It turns out he was the smartest of us,” Kroon said. “With 1km to go he attacked and I thought that is all he had left. At 500m to go I was in the big ring and I attacked at the steepest part of the climb. He was able to follow my wheel. He surprised me today.”
Perhaps less surprising is how the five-time Russian national champion proposed to celebrate his victory. Said Ivanov: “We will celebrate tonight. We will drink vodka.” — VeloNews senior writer Fred Dreier and Agence France Presse contributed to this report.
1. Sergei Ivanov (Rus), Team Katusha, 257.8km in 6:38:31 (38.814 km/h)
2. Karsten Kroon (Ned), Team Saxo Bank, same time
3. Robert Gesink (Ned), Rabobank, at 0:08
4. Philippe Gilbert (B), Silence-Lotto, s.t.
5. Damiano Cunego (I), Lampre-N.G.C., s.t.
6. Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus), Team Saxo Bank, s.t.
7. Simon Gerrans (Aus), Cervélo TestTeam, s.t.
8. Nick Nuyens (B), Rabobank, s.t.
9. Christian Pfannberger (A), Team Katusha, s.t.
10. Andy Schleck (Lux), Team Saxo Bank, s.t.
11. Christian Knees (G), Team Milram, s.t.
12. Benoît Vaugrenard (F), Française des Jeux, s.t.
13. Jerôme Pineau (F), Quick Step, s.t.
14. Samuel Sanchez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
15. Michael Albasini (Swi), Team Columbia-Highroad, s.t.
16. Nicki Sörensen (Den), Team Saxo Bank, s.t.
17. Michele Scarponi (I), Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni, s.t.
18. Roman Kreuziger (Cze), Liquigas, s.t.
19. Vincenzo Nibali (I), Liquigas, s.t.
20. Gustav Larsson (Swe), Team Saxo Bank, s.t.
21. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
22. Matteo Carrara (I), Vacansoleil, at 0:26
23. Rinaldo Nocentini (I), AG2R La Mondiale, s.t.
24. Sylvain Chavanel (F), Quick Step, s.t.
25. Maxime Monfort (B), Team Columbia-Highroad, at 0:36
26. Peter Velits (Svk), Team Milram, s.t.
27. Johan Van Summeren (B), Silence-Lotto, at 0:57
28. Jelle Vanendert (B), Silence-Lotto, at 1:06
29. Carlos Barredo (Sp), Quick Step, s.t.
30. Thomas Dekker (Ned), Silence-Lotto, at 1:29
31. Jakob Fuglsang (Den), Team Saxo Bank, at 2:26
32. Paul Martens (G), Rabobank, s.t.
33. Bjorn Leukemans (B), Vacansoleil, s.t.
34. Chris-Anker Sörensen (Den), Team Saxo Bank, s.t.
35. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Garmin-Slipstream, at 2:38
36. Luca Mazzanti (I), Team Katusha, at 2:45
37. Preben Van Hecke (B), Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator, at 2:52
38. Carlos Sastre (Sp), Cervélo TestTeam, at 2:56
39. Francesco Gavazzi (I), Lampre-N.G.C., s.t.
40. Enrico Gasparotto (I), Lampre-N.G.C., s.t.
41. Jurgen Vandenbroeck (B), Silence-Lotto, at 3:09
42. Davide Rebellin (I), Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni, s.t.
43. Joaquin Rodriguez (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
44. Ben Hermans (B), Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator, at 4:30
45. Dimitri Muravyev (Kaz), Astana, s.t.
46. David De La Fuente (I), Fuji-Servetto, s.t.
47. Gerben Löwik (Ned), Vacansoleil, s.t.
48. Gorazd Stangelj (Slo), Liquigas, s.t.
49. Geert Verheyen (B), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, s.t.
50. Matthieu Sprick (F), BBox Bouygues Telecom, s.t.
51. Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe), Fuji-Servetto, s.t.
52. Manuele Mori (I), Lampre-N.G.C., s.t.
53. Linus Gerdemann (G), Team Milram, s.t.
54. Francesco Ginanni (I), Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni, s.t.
55. Dario Cataldo (I), Quick Step, s.t.
56. Ben Swift (GB), Team Katusha, s.t.
57. Waele Bert De (B), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, s.t.
58. Amaël Moinard (F), Cofidis, s.t.
59. Inigo Landaluze (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
60. Sandy Casar (F), Française des Jeux, s.t.
61. Edward King (USA), Cervélo TestTeam, s.t.
62. Craig Lewis (USA), Team Columbia-Highroad, s.t.
63. Bram Tankink (Ned), Rabobank, s.t.
64. Johnny Hoogerland (Ned), Vacansoleil, s.t.
65. Oscar Freire (Sp), Rabobank, at 4:48
66. Marco Marcato (I), Vacansoleil, s.t.
67. Cadel Evans (Aus), Silence-Lotto, s.t.
68. Fabian Wegmann (G), Team Milram, s.t.
69. Francesco Reda (I), Quick Step, s.t.
70. Assan Bazayev (Kaz), Astana, s.t.
71. Michael Rogers (Aus), Team Columbia-Highroad, s.t.
72. Dries Devenyns (B), Quick Step, s.t.
73. Allan Davis (Aus), Quick Step, at 5:23
74. Staf Scheirlinckx (B), Silence-Lotto, s.t.
75. Marcus Burghardt (G), Team Columbia-Highroad, at 6:02
76. Leonardo Duque (Col), Cofidis, s.t.
77. Joan Horrach (Sp), Team Katusha, s.t.
78. Marco Pinotti (I), Team Columbia-Highroad, s.t.
79. Alan Pérez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
80. Thierry Hupond (F), Skil-Shimano, s.t.
81. Christophe Kern (F), Cofidis, s.t.
82. Philip Deignan (Irl), Cervélo TestTeam, s.t.
83. Inaki Isasi (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
84. Bert Scheirlinckx (B), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, s.t.
85. Ricardo Van Der Velde (Ned), Garmin-Slipstream, s.t.
86. Kort Koen De (Ned), Skil-Shimano, s.t.
87. Wesley Sulzberger (Aus), Française des Jeux, s.t.
88. Martin Elmiger (Swi), AG2R La Mondiale, s.t.
89. Martijn Maaskant (Ned), Garmin-Slipstream, s.t.
90. Sergey Lagutin (Uzb), Vacansoleil, s.t.
91. Sergey Klimov (Rus), Team Katusha, s.t.
92. Alexandr Dyachenko (Kaz), Astana, s.t.
93. Renaud Dion (F), AG2R La Mondiale, s.t.
94. Frederik Willems (B), Liquigas, s.t.
95. Alexander Efimkin (Rus), AG2R La Mondiale, s.t.
96. Johannes Fröhlinger (G), Team Milram, s.t.
97. Serge Pauwels (B), Cervélo TestTeam, s.t.
98. Ivan Santaromita (I), Liquigas, s.t.
99. Tony Martin (G), Team Columbia-Highroad, s.t.
100. Alexandre Botcharov (Rus), Team Katusha, at 9:10
101. Mikael Cherel (F), Française des Jeux, s.t.
102. Sébastien Delfosse (B), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, s.t.
103. Floris Goesinnen (Ned), Skil-Shimano, at 9:34
104. Alberto Losada (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
105. Pieter Weening (Ned), Rabobank, s.t.
106. Bingen Fernandez (Sp), Cofidis, s.t.
107. Luca Solari (I), Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni, s.t.
108. Brian Bach Vandborg (Den), Liquigas, s.t.
109. Francis Mourey (F), Française des Jeux, at 9:42
110. Reinier Honig (Ned), Vacansoleil, at 9:47
111. Olivier Bonnaire (F), BBox Bouygues Telecom, at 10:38
112. Luis Pasamontes (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 13:52
113. Ricardo Serrano (Sp), Fuji-Servetto, s.t.
114. Kristof Vandewalle (B), Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator, s.t.
115. Borut Bozic (Slo), Vacansoleil, s.t.
116. Valerio Agnoli (I), Liquigas, s.t.
117. Dominique Rollin (Can), Cervélo TestTeam, s.t.
118. Adi Engels (B), Quick Step, s.t.
119. Mauro Santambrogio (I), Lampre-N.G.C., s.t.
120. Daniele Righi (I), Lampre-N.G.C., s.t.
121. Rui Costa (Por), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
122. Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn), BBox Bouygues Telecom, s.t.
123. Anthony Roux (F), Française des Jeux