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Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) on the climb to the finish
Leopard Trek rider caught 500 metres from the finish
Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) knew he had little or no chance against Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) in the final surge to the line on the Cauberg and so went on the attack over the top of the Keutenberg climb in his bid to win the Amstel Gold Race.
With only Jakob Fuglsang with him in the front group after his brother Fränk and Fabian Cancellara crashed and lost contact, he knew he had to play his best card and so tried a lone move with 12km to go. And it almost paid off.
Schleck stayed away until five hundred metres from the finish line but Philippe Gilbert had carefully kept him under control and then mercilessly swept past Schleck and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) on the way to victory.
Schleck tried to salvage something from his brave effort but finished 11th at 28 seconds.
"I wanted to win, I didn't want to finish second or third, so that's why I tried something. I'm not going to beat Philippe Gilbert in the sprint on this finish. So that's why I put everything on one card," Schleck said after the race.
"I think it was a pretty good moment when I went. It's a key point in the race and when Fränk won (in 2006), he went there. But I never got more than 15 seconds and I was going flat out. When they passed me with five hundred metres to go, I was like 'phew', I lost everything, and wasn't able to do the sprint because I'd just done a time trial for 12km."
A change of plan
Leopard Trek had hoped to out-number and out-smart Gilbert and Omega Pharma-lotto on the climbs and twisting roads of southern Holland just as Garmin-Cervélo had done to set up Johan Van Summeren for victory at Paris-Roubaix. However, Andy was forced to change tactics when his brother Fränk and Fabian Cancellara crashed.
"We'd planned to go a little bit earlier because we knew we had four or five guys in really good shape. We had Fabian, Jakob [Fuglsang], Fränk and me. Unfortunately we lost Fränk and Fabian in a really decisive moment but we had to do the best of the situation," he explained.
"I went but it was still a pretty big group behind me for Amstel Gold Race for the finale. That wasn't really in my favour but I had to go full gas but they were pretty quickly organised behind.
"I stayed out there but they pulled pretty hard. I thought that if they stopped for one moment, I'd get 20 or 25 seconds and perhaps the cars would come behind me. It's different if you start the last climb with 25 seconds, rather than just 12."
The Leopard Trek team was finally hoping to win a Classic after Fabian Cancellara's run of podium placings at Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. They were again in the thick of the action but someone else again took the glory.
Instead of dwelling on defeat, Andy preferred to look at the positive aspects of his performance at Amstel Gold Race and to look ahead at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"Just the fact that I came here without any injuries and wasn't sick is good," he said, remembering his knee problems last spring. "I had pretty much a perfect preparation and I feel better than ever before in this part of the season. Without being arrogant, I think I was one of the strongest riders in the race.
"My morale is good and I'm here to do something this week. It's given me the confidence but maybe I also put a mark (target) on my back for the next races. But Liège is a definitely a better race for me. I was good today and so normally I'll be in front in the remaining two Classics too."