By Gregor Brown in Valkenburg, The Netherlands
Luxembourg's Fränk Schleck fell slightly short of repeating in the Amstel Gold Race, the Dutch one-day Classic that helped put his name in the spot light back in 2006. The Team CSC rider, who turned 28 years old last week, was the first to begin his sprint in the last five-hundred metres, but could not shake Italy's Damiano Cunego, who came around in the final 150 metres for the win.
"I know that I don't have the punch like Damiano or [Alejandro] Valverde, so I could not wait for the last 200 metres," confessed Schleck following his ride in the 43rd Amstel Gold. He watched Cunego pass him, but was able to hold of Spain's Valverde for second spot.
"It was my only chance to get away, to try to drop the guys before the final sprint," the winner of the 2006 race and the 2006 Tour de France stage of Alpe d'Huez continued. His move did not come from the gut, in fact, it was the order from the team car that got him moving. "I did not want to do it, but I heard Kim Andersen and Bjarne Riis yelling in my earpiece, telling me I should just try it. That is what I did and it almost tuned out to be a win."
Schleck praised his competitor, Cunego; "Damiano knew he had to keep my wheel, and he did, he did everything right."
Even though the win did not materialise, he came the closest he has to a win all year, and it bodes well for the coming two Ardennes Classics: the Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. "I am happy I followed the orders of Kim Andersen and Bjarne Riis, I was able to finish second. ... I will take the start of Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège; I won't tell you that I will win the races, but I will do my best to win them."
CSC played its cards well in the finale, and was one of two teams along with Caisse d'Epargne to make the winning move with more than one rider. Schleck was able to benefit from the company of team-mate Karsten Kroon while vying for the win.
"We could not work with Caisse, we tried to do our own race and play it out," Schleck clarified of any possible accord with the Spanish team. "There are so many different teams and that is what makes the races exiting.
"Kroon had good legs, and we could use each other. I tried to attack many times, I did not have a chance to wait for the sprint. If Karsten Kroon is ready, he is fast for the sprint as well."
For more on Fränk Schleck read Motivation running strong.