Di Luca foils the Rabo plan

ProTour standings Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas-Bianchi) confirmed his...

40th Amstel Gold Race - PT

Netherlands, April 17, 2005

ProTour standings

Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas-Bianchi) confirmed his status as a favourite for the 40th Amstel Gold Race by outsprinting Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) and a bunch of 30 riders to the top of the Cauberg on a misty day in southern Limburg. Di Luca is no stranger to this climb, finishing third here in the 1998 U23 World Championships, third in the 2003 Amstel Gold Race and fourth in last year's Amstel. After a generally disappointing 2004 season, the attacker from Abruzzo is back.

"This was a great win for me today," he said after the finish. "It was a great race and my (Liquigas) team was great, too. Today the race was really hard; the weather was bad, it was cold and humid and that doesn't make your legs feel good. With the early break, it was a strange Amstel. We rode at a regular pace behind the break most of the day and so a lot of riders were together at the end.

"In the sprint, I knew that the Cauberg is a good finish for my characteristics. Boogerd took off early as he usually does and then I managed to get up to him and win it.

Boogerd, who already had finished second three times and had one win in the Amstel up until today, hadn't planned to do the sprint for himself. Instead, he and the Rabobank team tried to orchestrate a leadout on the Cauberg for Oscar Freire, with Erik Dekker, Karsten Kroon, and Boogerd as the last three men. But when Boogerd went hard with 300m to go, Freire couldn't hold his wheel, while Di Luca had a relatively comfortable run up to the line.

"It isn't a good feeling," said a disappointed Boogerd at the end. "We arranged the sprint for Oscar. First Erik Dekker and then Kroon. Than a Phonak rider passed us, so I jumped on his wheel, but he stopped. So I went further and thought Oscar was still in my wheel...I didn't lose the sprint. I was there for Freire. He said he was very strong and then normally he wins."

When asked later if he had spoken to Freire post-race, Boogerd gave a round "No" in response. The disappointment was there for everyone to see.

That didn't stop Danilo Di Luca from celebrating, and the Italian said, "I want to dedicate my win today to my grandmother, who passed away recently. She was one of the few people who helped me last year, it was a bad year for me. I had problems with my health and then people didn't believe in me. But I feel good now and finally it's my year.

"After this win today, I'm feeling relaxed and looking to L-B-L. It's my favourite race and I'm really hoping to do well there," finished Di Luca.

Third place went to Mirko Celestino (Domina Vacanze), who showed that he is also in form for next week's Ardennes classics. "Today turned out to be a pretty good race for me," he said afterwards. "This kind of weather is good for me because I don't like the heat. And we all knew that Di Luca would be good after his win (in Pais Vasco)...but I'm satisfied with my performance today because I ended up on the podium and hope it will help out team with the Giro d'Italia coming up."

How it unfolded

194 riders gathered in cold, misty, and damp conditions in Maastricht's Grote Markt ready for 251 km of riding through the hilly district of southern Limburg, with 31 climbs to master. The weather didn't change at all throughout the day, much to the dismay of the Dutch TV network NOS that was due to cover it live. It was deemed too dangerous to put any helicopters in the air with an airport very close by, and television viewers had to be content with images from fixed cameras on the side of the road, including at the finish on the Cauberg.

That didn't deter the riders of course, and it took only four kilometres before the break of the day was started by Belgian Erwin Thijs (MrBookmaker) and Dutchman Alain Van Katwijk (Shimano-Memory Corp). The pair were pursued and caught by Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) and Andriy Grivko (Domina Vacanze) at km 10, and that was that. After 18 km, the gap was 2'20, then it grew to 5'55 at km 30, and 12'30 at km 57, the maximum advantage enjoyed by the four. 46 kilometres were covered in the first hour in the damp, and the peloton was happy to let these men ride.

The gap remained fairly steady at 12'00 after the first passage of the Cauberg (km 64) and the break started to settle down. The peloton began to increase the tempo after 110 km and brought the gap down to 10'10, and from then on, the break was fighting a losing battle. It became even harder when Van Katwijk was dropped and Grivko punctured at km 125, leaving just Moreau and Thijs to tough it out, 9'20 ahead of the bunch. The two chasers gradually fell back and were caught on the second passage of the Cauberg at km 152, with the two leaders holding out well at 8'00.

The next move of interest came after 193 km when Leon van Bon (Davitamon-Lotto) counter-attacked from the peloton, while the two leaders were still 5'00 in front. Van Bon was caught by Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile) after a few kilometres, and the pair made big inroads into the leaders, with the peloton following at 0'30. Jens Voigt (CSC) tried and failed to get across to the two chasers, and at the foot of the Kruisberg at km 227, Van Bon and Wesemann had closed to Moreau and Thijs, while the Rabobank-led peloton breathed down their necks at 0'15.

After being away for 220 km, Moreau and Thijs lost contact on the Kruisberg. On the following climb - the steep Eyserbosweg - Wesemann rode away from Van Bon, but was joined by David Etxebarria (Liberty), Mark Lotz (Quick.Step) and Karsten Kroon (Rabobank). The quartet made it to the top of the Fromberg (km 233) with 22 seconds lead over the peloton, and pulled it out to 35 seconds on the penultimate climb, the Keutenberg, with 12 km to go.

A chase group of 10 riders formed behind the four leaders, with all the big riders: Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Rodriguez (Saunier Duval), Leukemans (Davitamon-Lotto), Valverde (Illes Balears), Sinkewitz (Quick.Step), Celestino (Domina), Kirchen (Fassa), Di Luca (Liquigas), Boogerd and Freire (Rabobank). The 10 became 30 with 9 km to go, leaving the four dangling in front at 10 seconds. But on the descent of the Sibbegrubbe, just before the final climb of the Cauberg, it all came together for a "bunch" sprint.

Rabobank clicked into action on the Cauberg, hoping to lead their World Champ Freire out for the victory. Erik Dekker set the tempo at the foot of the climb, before Kroon took over at 500m to go. Then it was Boogerd, who had Freire on his wheel before Di Luca muscled up on the left. Boogerd lifted the tempo with 300m out, and the wheels fell off the Rabobank orange bus as Freire dropped off Boogerd's wheel. The lanky Dutchman realised too late that he was Rabobank's only chance, but couldn't do anything when Di Luca powered past him with 150m to go to take a big win. Boogerd held on for second ahead of Mirko Celestino, but again had to be satisfied with a minor placing.

Race day photography

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us

Images by Fotoreporter Sirotti

Images by Elmar Krings

Images by Andrea Hübner/www.velo-photos.com

Results - 251 km

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