Kwiatkowski in demand
The majority of the transfer talk in recent weeks has centred on Alexander Kristoff, who is out of contract at the end of the season, and who has enjoyed a stellar spring. The Norwegian's stock has undoubtedly risen but in all likelihood he will re-sign with Katusha in the coming months, with the team also set to continue. That leaves the world champion, Michal Kwiatkowski, as the most sought after rider on the market for 2016 – although Dan Martin's and Richie Porte's agents may have another set of opinions on that.
The fact that Patrick Lefevere wasn't able to ensure that the Polish rider extended his deal after winning the Worlds may raise some eyebrows but the Belgian team manager is one of the canniest transfer market kingpins on the scene. He apparently showed interest in Nacer Bouhanni last year just to drive up Cofidis' bid [insert applause] and there's little chance that he will let both the world champion and Mark Cavendish slip through his fingers in the same season. As for Kwiatkowski, he continues to develop as both a rider and team leader. More on him and Etixx later. (DB)
BMC: Can lightning strike twice?
Last year BMC used Samuel Sánchez to beautifully set up Philippe Gilbert with a late attack to draw out his rivals before the Belgian finally made his killer move.
It worked so well that BMC tried almost exactly the same move on Sunday. Instead of Sánchez, the team used Ben Hermans this year but the process was exactly the same, even down to Greg Van Avermaet following a Jakob Fuglsang move on the run to the bottom of the Cauberg. The rest of the pack were wise to it and only CCC Sprandi's Maciej Paterski followed Hermans. When Gilbert's attack finally did come, Matthews was right on his wheel.
At the end of the race BMC were left with fifth and 10th for their efforts, and while that's far from the result they raced for, it's hard to question the team's tactics too much.
Amstel is a relatively static encounter in which so much, everything in fact, comes down to the Cauberg, and the following run-in to the line. Sprinters' teams aren't criticized for perpetually loading the front of a race with riders before a sprint finish, therefore BMC were astute to realize that their best tactic was to set Gilbert up for an attack. The Belgian is what British football commentators would belligerently call a 'top, top player' or in this case, a cyclist and only winning matters. He can't beat Valverde in a sprint so why wait and why not use your strength to the absolute maximum? Predictable or not, if his rivals don't have the legs there's not much they can do.
Unlike last year a rider of substantial quality was able to follow Gilbert and Matthews' presence essentially neutralised both his and Gilbert's race. The Australian went too deep into his reserves and the Belgian was reluctant to bring a sprinter, and Valverde, to the line. Wilfried Peeters was magnanimous enough to admit that BMC's tactics weren't misplaced, and for a column which regularly criticised BMC for a lack of leadership clarity, it would be mildly hypocritical for us to jump ship. Gilbert simply didn't have the legs to execute what still remains the perfect plan. (SO.DB)
Etixx-QuickStep deserve Amstel success
If BMC Racing had the right tactics then Etixx matched them before showing the composure and finesse to finish the job, much to the relief of a manager who seen his team pick up a glut of podium places in recent weeks without scoring a major win. Amstel Gold Race hasn't been a happy hunting ground for Lefevere in the past – this was his first win in Limburg since Johan Museeuw in 1994 – but on Sunday his team kept their poise, firstly by realising that BMC were the favourites and subsequently ushering them into expending energy on the front. Their second play saw Tony Martin effectively neutralise Vincenzo Nibali into a state of frustration followed by one of rueful acceptance. Thirdly, Kwiatkowski didn't panic when Gilbert launched his strong but telegraphed attack. Instead, he did just enough to keep the Belgian in view – although despite his post-race overtures, he probably would have had the legs to follow – before waiting for the re-grouping as the rest of the favourites merged after the crest of the climb.
However, it was the sprint from Kwiatkowski that deserves most praise. Watch it again. Just as BMC begin their lead-out there are 11 riders ahead of the world champion, who is locked on Dani Moreno's rear wheel. It's not the ideal position, so he moves left and trades up for Tony Gallopin. This affords him space but also time to wind up his sprint, first over the top of the Lotto rider and then Matthews, who begins to fade as the line approaches. When Etiix win they make it look so, so easy. (DB)
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Last year, as Simon Gerrans stepped onto the podium at Amstel, his team manager Matt White turned to Cyclingnews and asked "Did you see where Matthews finished? Twelfth. He'll come back and win this race." At the time it was a rather bold statement to make given that Matthews, in the race for the first time, had failed to feature in the finale. However, in the intervening 12 months Matthews has come on leaps and bounds as a rider, with third place on Sunday a reward for a valiant performance.
The discussions over whether he should have matched Gilbert on the Cauberg were instant fodder for commentators but let's start by simply stating that it was a monumental effort – and one that no other rider managed it in 2010, 2011 or 2014, not to mention the 2012 Worlds. If Valverde had instantly taken a turn when he latched onto the move, it may have just survived, while there's no faulting Matthews' position in the sprint: he simply went too deep on the climb and paid the price. Third in Milan-San Remo and now third in Amstel, Matthews has done more than enough to cement his place as Gerrans' heir. (DB)
Always the bridesmaid
Close but no cigar, that is the tale of Alejandro Valverde's relationship with the Cauberg. The Movistar rider's second place to Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) at this year’s Amstel Gold Race is his third podium without taking the victory, after finishing second in 2013 and third in 2008. He also finished third at the 2012 World Championships, where the race finished in the same place as it does in Amstel Gold - in addition to the five other podium finishes at the Worlds.
The Spaniard was overjoyed at the finish of the race - he was closer than he'd ever been before - but the victory still seems illusive. Valverde's turn of speed has served him well in the past and has shown time and again that he can mix it with some the fast men in the tough finishes. However, his tactics so often let him down, especially when he is faced with such a strong field. That was apparent on Sunday when he failed to place himself properly and found himself trapped behind Kwiatkowski in the reduced bunch sprint.
Valverde is a perennial runner up in some of the biggest races on the calendar. He notched up 27 podium finishes in 2014, 16 of which were either second or third. There is little doubt that he is consistent and that he will bring in the results but, if he played it smarter in the finale, you get the feeling he could do much more.
He goes to Flèche Wallonne next where the expectations will be high as the defending champion and he'll be looking to add a third title to his palmarès. (SO)