By Brecht Decaluwé in Valkenburg, The Netherlands
The Astana team might not be able to participate in all the big races this year, but they've made sure to put on a show on the events which will have them. The team was not invited to any of the races of Tour de France organiser ASO, including Paris-Roubaix and the upcoming Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but in the Amstel Gold ProTour race, they made a strong bid for victory with Russian veteran Sergey Ivanov. The 33 year-old is the team's man for all the Spring Classics and after a decent performance in the Ronde van Vlaanderen he showed once again that his cleverness can bring him close to the victory in a tough race like the Amstel Gold Race.
Before the race the friendly Russian confided to Cyclingnews that he had his plan ready to chase the victory. "I have a chance. I'm not in better form than other years, but I'm more fresh," Ivanov said and reminded us of the non-selection of his team for Paris-Roubaix. "I'll try to sneak away before the big guns are firing," Ivanov realized it was the only chance he had to finally claim a win in a Spring Classics, although one shouldn't forget about his win in the E3-prijs Harelbeke back in 2000.
Back in 2002, Ivanov finished as runner-up in the Amstel Gold Race behind his Fassa Bortolo team-mate Michele Bartoli. That second place was the result of a four-man sprint which also included Michael Boogerd and Lance Armstrong. Back then the finish wasn't yet on the Cauberg, so it was a flat sprint. This year the Russian arrived at the last kilometre in a group of nine with an uphill sprint on the Cauberg ahead of him. The Russian was no match for the lighter, punchier riders around him, and he had to settle for seventh place 18 seconds behind winner Damiano Cunego.
"I had some cramps in the finale, and I couldn't pull the pedals like it should be on the climbs. That's why I tried to get away [before the climb]," Ivanov explained. He attacked right after the steep Eyserbosweg where nobody from the favourites managed to get away. The Russian was quickly joined by Christian Pfannenberger and the duo created a small gap on the peloton.
"I was in a very good position with Pfannenberger," Ivanov realized. The duo was then joined by seven strong riders and they headed for the ultimate ascent of the Cauberg, in Valkenburg. "I was without a chance in the sprint," the 33-year-old Russian commented, "I gave my best and I'm happy with my performance; clearly I'm in top condition. It's too bad there are no races left for me anymore," Ivanov lamented. "So, I'm forced to take a break due to those problems. I'm going to Russia to spend a vacation with my family."