VALKENBURG, Netherlands (VN) — Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) won the 48th Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, escaping a lead group in the final kilometers to climb the Cauberg alone to victory.
The 251km race from Maastricht’s Market Square to Valkenburg featured a redesigned finale, which included a new finishing circuit that expanded the number of climbs from 32 to 34 and a finish line 1.8km after the top of the Cauberg.
It proved a rough ride for some big names, among them world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), Laurents Ten Dam (Blanco), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), all of whom fell victim to crashes long before the Cauberg.
In the end, a seven-man break was off the front with 10km to go — Kreuziger, Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Lars Petter Nordhaug (Blanco), Andriy Grivko (Astana), Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge), Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha), and Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil), with just a couple dozen seconds over what remained of the peloton.
Nordhaug had a go and split the group. Kreuziger, Weening and Caruso stayed with him. Then Kreuziger went, and he quickly opened a big gap.
With 3km to go the Saxo-Tinkoff man hit the foot of the Cauberg alone. But the bunch was roaring along behind, sweeping up the remains of the break.
Then Gilbert, who never went down in the crash, but had quite a wait for a new bike and a long chase to regain the peloton, powered away with Simon Gerrans (Orica) in pursuit. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) joined the party, too, and it was a drag race to the line. But they had left it too late, because Kreuziger was not going to be caught.
The Czech had a last look around and then posted up for the cameras at the finish line. Twenty-two seconds later Gilbert led out the sprint for second, but he didn’t get it — Valverde took second, while Gerrans grabbed third, and the world champ had to settle for fifth on the day.
The big favorite for the win, Peter Sagan (Cannondale), didn’t crack the top 10. After cramping up in the 80-degree heat he finished 36th, 57 seconds down.
“This is my most important win of my career, but it’s thanks to the great work from my teammates,” said Kreuziger. “We played it smart and decided to try to make a move before the Cauberg. I had good legs here today and I’m happy to win the race.”
Vansummeren clocks in early
Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp) was the sparkplug that fired an early break including Astarloza, Arthur Van Overberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen); Klaas Sys (Crelan-Euphony); Tim De Troyer and Nicolas Vogondy (Accent Jobs-Wanty); and Alexandr Pliuschin (IAM Cycling).
The break took some 11 minutes’ advantage before a crash confounded the chase with around 100km to go, forcing much of the bunch to cyclocross around the carnage and leaving world champion Gilbert, Ten Dam, Voeckler and several others on the deck.
Gilbert had to wait quite some time for a spare bike, but eventually got back after it, with Schleck and Rui Costa (Movistar) for company, as Ten Dam’s teammate Lars Boom drove the first chase.
Voeckler, fifth here in 2012, was not so fortunate — he was taken to hospital, and team manager Andy Flickinger feared the 33-year-old Frenchman had broken his right shoulder; reports later indicated it was a collarbone. Schleck likewise called it quits.
Gilbert chases back on
The Gilbert group regained the bulk of the peloton and the chase resumed. With 75km remaining the escapees had 7:25 on the bunch and the hunt was on for real. Ten kilometers further along the gap was under five minutes and falling fast.
As the gap fell to 3:30 with 54km to go Vansummeren, Pliuschin and Astarloza bid farewell to the others.
Astarloza then attacked on a rise and went it alone as behind, with 45km to go, another crash took down a number of riders on a narrow, muddy stretch of country road, among them Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). He got riding again, but appeared to be in some pain, and it was clear that his day was done. Team management announced later that Rodriguez had a severely bruised left leg; it remained unclear whether he’d be good to go for Flèche Wallonne or Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
With 39km remaining Astarloza was clinging to two minutes’ advantage. Behind, Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) laid down a powerful attack on the Eyserbosweg. Sergei Lagutin (Vacansoleil-DCM) was next to try his luck, leaping away from the peloton and enjoying a stint in no-man’s land.
Thirty kilometers from the finish Astarloza remained on point, chased by Vansummeren and Pliuschin — the Garmin man doing the bulk of the work — with Weening fourth man on the road.
Pliuschin finally showed himself just as Weening joined him and Vansummeren on the Keutenberg, and the two left the Garmin man behind.
“I’m completely destroyed now,” said Vansummeren afterward. “We wanted to make it hard for the team of Sagan. I think it worked, but. … At least I didn’t ride anonymous. I liked it, it was a nice day out on the bike.”
Blanco teammates Lars Petter Nordhaug and David Tanner, with and Andrei Grivko (Astana), were next to have a go out of the bunch. They linked up with Pliuschin, who couldn’t hold Weening’s wheel, and it appeared that the Orica man was sitting up to wait for them.
Simon Spilak (Katusha) tried twice to get away from the bunch, and finally snapped the elastic. Then Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Cunego) had a dig. Nobody wanted to wait for the final moments to make something happen.
The chase closes in
Ahead, Astarloza was looking over his shoulder as the five-man Weening chase rolled along. He held a 90-second gap over the first pursuit, while the peloton was more than two minutes down, and Cannondale was starting to find itself in something of a hole with 25km to go.
Astarloza hit the Cauberg with less than a minute in hand. Kreuziger, Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil) and Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) leapt out of the chase and joined the chasers and with 17km to go they had overhauled the Euskaltel man.
Tanner fell out of the group before the catch, but it remained a good-sized break, and it seemed no one in it was interested in taking the initiative. With a dozen kilometers remaining they held less than a half-minute over the chase.
And then first Nordhaud, then Kreuziger rolled the dice, with the Czech raking in the pot.
“Roman is the just winner today,” said Valverde. “He was the strongest because we were chasing hard and couldn’t catch him. I am content with second place, because we rode a great race today and it shows I am on form for the upcoming races.”
Gerrans said the race boiled down to “a game of tactics,” but likewise credited Kreuziger for a job well done.
“I have some teammates who are on great form and it was because of that I was able to race aggressively in the end,” he said. “With 1km to go, we knew we couldn’t catch Roman. To be there with Gilbert and Valverde shows I’m strong.”
As for the world champ, Gilbert said he was good — just not good enough.
“It was difficult at the end. I didn’t have enough power to close the gap to Kreuziger, and then Valverde and Gerrens came back to me,” he said. “I was hoping to get on the podium, but then the group came back to us, and I couldn’t do it.
“I was good, but not good enough. I think I’m ready for next week, because that’s my main goal, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. I feel my condition is improving every day.”
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from the Amstel Gold Race.