By Jeff Jones in Valkenburg
For the fourth time in his career, Rabobank's Michael Boogerd was denied victory in the Amstel Gold Race, today losing out to Italian pocket sprinter-climber Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas). Di Luca proved to be a cut above the finely tuned Rabobank train, after Oscar Freire couldn't follow Boogerd's lead-out with 300m to go, giving Di Luca the rails run to the line at the top of the Cauberg.
"It was very strange because we had a bunch at the foot of the last climb," said Di Luca post-race. "I was in a very good position, almost in the lead. Boogerd started to sprint with 300 metres to go, I was on his wheel and it was absolutely no problem for me to pass him."
Boogerd was very disappointed at the way things turned out, especially as he had no trouble rescuing his second place after doing the work for Freire. "It's a real pity that it wasn't possible for me to win," said the Dutchman. "I had to lead out the sprint for Freire - normally I would have had to have been on the wheel of Di Luca if I wanted to win. But my main aim was to lead the sprint for Oscar...he's the World Champion and normally he's faster than me in the sprint. We didn't discuss it during the race, I just asked him how he felt and he told me 'good', so normally I had to lead the sprint for him because he seemed to be very sure of himself."
The 251 km race was run in cold, misty, and damp conditions through the hills of southern Limburg, with the main moves of note being a four man break that started at km 4 and featured Erwin Thijs (MrBookmaker), Alain Van Katwijk (Shimano-Memory Corp), Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) and Andriy Grivko (Domina Vacanze). The quartet enjoyed a maximum lead of 12'30 at km 57, but was gradually reeled in by the Rabobank and Liquigas-led peloton. A counter move was started by Leon van Bon (Lotto) and Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile) with just under 60 km to go, which became Wesemann, Lotz (Quick Step), Kroon (Rabobank) and D. Etxebarria (Liberty) with 20 km left. That quartet stayed away until 4 km to go when the front part of the peloton swept them up just before the foot of the last climb of the Cauberg.
In the sprint, it was Di Luca who successfully negated the four man Rabobank lead out with a blistering sprint of his own to claim the win in the 40th edition of this race. Boogerd was second, with Mirko Celestino (Domina Vacanze) a distant third.