Peter Sagan closed out his Spring Classics campaign with a fourth-place finish in the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday. The world champion was heavily marked in an elite leading group of 12 riders but placed the blame for missing the winning move on last week's effort to win Paris-Roubaix.
"It was a tough Amstel Gold Race with a very strong pace from the start," Sagan said in a press release. "The breakaway managed to build a very big gap and was brought in, but that required a strong effort."
The six riders of the day's breakaway still out front found themselves swept up by first runner-up Roman Kreuziger (Mitchelton-Scott) and third place finisher Enrico Gasparotto (Bahrain-Merida) on the Cauberg with 28km to go, and Sagan made it into the group with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) and eventual winner Michael Valgren and his Astana teammate Jakob Fuglsang.
When Valgren put in his winning move with more than 2km to go, the others looked to Sagan to chase. "I had good sensations but I think that last week's Paris-Roubaix could still be felt in my legs," Sagan said. "I finished fourth and, in my view, the overall assessment of my Classics campaign is good."
Bora-Hansgrohe directeur sportif Jens Zemke blamed the team for leaving Sagan isolated in the finale. "Peter had a strong race as well but, unfortunately, we didn't fully support him in the last 40km, where he had to work hard and close many gaps by himself. He was in the chasing group, just a few seconds behind the leaders but he wasn't able to bridge the gap," Zemke said.
Gasparotto back on the podium
The winner of the Amstel Gold Race in 2012 and 2016, Enrico Gasparotto (Bahrain-Merida) fought to the final podium position on Sunday, having left his attempt to bridge across to winner Michael Valgren and runner-up Roman Kreuziger a bit too late.
"When the attacked I immediately looked at both Peter Sagan and Alejandro Valverde and when I realized that they would not pursue them," Gasparotto explained. "I thought I had to try to follow them because I would have surely lost at the bunch sprint."
On the newly engineered finish, Gasparotto closed to within touching distance of the leading pair until Valgren launched his sprint and the two shot away.
"With 400 meters to go I thought I would reach the two attackers but I missed the moment," Gasparotto said. "I am sincerely happy. I am 36 years old, I have done a race always in the front and the Amstel continues to give me most beautiful emotions and this is a great thing."
The Bahrain-Merida team were crucial to bringing back the breakaway, and directeur sportif Tristan Hoffman praised the squad for their work. "We were always in the heart of the race and in the finale we were numerous in the first positions of the peloton. Wednesday is Fleche Wallone, a different race but where we can really make a good result."
Matthews punctures at the worst time
Team Sunweb's Michael Matthews continued to show strong form in his comeback from a fractured shoulder at the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday. The Australian was with the leading group as they hit the Cauberg for the final time with 29km to go, but an untimely puncture at the foot of the climb spelled an end to his hopes.
His 24th place, 2:11 down, hardly reflects his performance a the difficult Amstel Gold Race.
"I think there was a split of 15/20 guys off the front with me in it and coming into the descent to the Cauberg I realised I had a rear flat. Unfortunately, the closest guy from my team was in the bunch behind. I was asking the neutral service for a wheel but this took some time and after that my race was over.
"This is the best I've felt all year – finally my sprint is back and I can climb again with my shoulder, so today was really nice until that point."
Lotto Soudal misses out
Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) also found himself marked by the leading group in the Amstel Gold Race after his victory in De Brabantse Pijl this week. He made it into the decisive group but lost out to tactics in the finale.
"I am happy with the way the race developed and with how I felt, but I am disappointed with the final result," Wellens said. "We bridged to the front group with six riders, after jumping away from the group of favourites. A bit later we were left with eight at the front. Then it became a cat-and-mouse game.
"We all attacked in turn and then you need to be lucky that there is some hesitation at the moment that you go. That didn't happen when I attacked, but it did happen when Valgren and Kreuziger attacked and that marked the decisive moment.
"Maybe that Valverde and others kept an eye on me. It's very unfortunate that my attempts didn't lead to the success that I had hoped for. I can be satisfied with my performance, but I had hoped for more."
Tankink shines in his final Amstel
Bram Tankink (LottoNl-Jumbo) raced the last Amstel Gold Race of his career, and was not resting on his laurels. The 39-year-old made the day's breakaway and was one of the last riders to be dropped as the race heated up in the final 30km.
Tankink's group managed to carve out a lead of almost 15 minutes on the peloton, and for a time it looked as if they might not be brought back.
"I said to the boys: come on, let's go for it," Tankink said. "The cooperation was good and we all put in a lot of effort. I'll keep good memories and a good feeling about this race. I really enjoyed it. The fact that the audience kept shouting my name on all those climbs simply gave me goosebumps."
Although he eventually finished 94th after being dropped on the Kneuteberg, he was only 3:35 behind winner Michael Valgren and was able to enjoy the experience of racing his home event for the 15th time.
"Oh man, what a day! This was very special," Tankink said. "I never expected that I was able to pull off this performance with my 39 years of age. Firstly, you need to be good enough to participate in the race and secondly, you need to be good enough to be in the break. Unfortunately, I just wasn't good enough in the final."