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The Amstel Gold Race: the Netherlands' contribution to the Spring Classics. 257.8km long with 31 climbs combine to make it a really tough day. And if that's not enough, many riders are coming off of a diffcult trip to the race, due to the lack of flights.
Welcome to Maastricht in southern Netherlands! We are looking forward to the momentary start of the race, the first of the Ardennes Trilogy.
As we all know, this will be a most unusual edition of this race. A total flight ban in Europe has led to massive problems, which of course also have their effect on this race. A number of riders have had to resort to various means to travel great distances and arrive here, while others were not able to, or decided not to, make the trip.
Last night we were told that 178 of the originally scheduled 192 riders would be at the start this morning. Let's see who many of them really are there.
Riders living in Spain seem to be the worst off. It's a loooooooong drive from there to the Netherlands, further and longer than you might think. Riders in Spain who did not or could not make the trip include Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Carlos Sastre (Cervelo), Alejandro Valverde andLuis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne), and Vicente Reynes and Craig Lewis (Columbia).
The race should be started now, but we have no information from the course yet.
Caisse d'Epargne will in fact field a team of only three riders today. The UCI gave them a special exemption to the rule that there must be at least five riders, due to the “exceptional circumstances.” Cervelo will have only five starters, Columbia six, and five other teams will have seven.
We now have definite word that the riders are underway. Unfortunately we don't know any more than that.
If you are a rider in Italy or Switzerland and need to get to a race in the Netherlands, you just hop on a plane, right? Wrong. Not these days, at any rate. The volcano with the unpronounceable name has put an end to air traffic in northern Europe, so everyone had to stop and think about how to make the trip.
There were a new kind of doping controls at the race this morning. The drivers of a number of team and race cares were visited by the police and invited to take alcohol controls. No word as to whether any violations were found.
Interesting action for a race sponsored by a brewery....
It's been a while since a Dutch rider won, but the Netherlands still leads with the number of wins over the years, with 17. Then come Belgium (9), Italy (5), Switzerland (3), Germany (3), and France (2). Denmark, Australia, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg and Russia have one win each.
Finally news from the race! A group of seven got awy only five km into the race: Rafael Valls (Footon-Servetto), Staf Scheirnckx (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Peter Wrolich (Milram), Sebastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet), Thierry Hupond (Skil-Shimano), Steven Van Vooren (Topsport-Vlaanderen) and Arnoud Van Groen (Vacansoliel).
At the 20 km marker, they had 50 seconds on the peloton.
It is a beautiful sunny day in the LImburg province, and lots of fans were on hand to send the field on its way.
Happy Birthday to Maxim Iglinsky, of Team Astana, who has turned 29 today. He has gotten off to a good start this year, winning the Monte Paschi Eroica. He was also fourth overall in Tirreno-Adriatico, and brought in top ten finishes in Milan-San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem, and the Tour of Flanders.
The lead group now has the first two climbs of the day behind it, and has built up a lead of six minutes.
Fränk Schleck is a tired but happy man. The Saxo Bank rider had a double celebration on Thursday – the birth of daughter Leea and his 30th birthday. His aim today is to help younger brother, now Uncle Andy, to help win. Read more about it here.
The lead is holding steady at six minutes, as the peloton is happy to let this group go.
A large number of riders went to great difficulty to make it here today, so that they can race. But the question remains, how will they do? Some riders were to take hours-long bus or train trips yesterday, others are looking to travel over 1000km by car. That can't be easy, and will most likely have an effect on their condition.
On the other hand, the travel problems may help give the race its first Dutch win since 2001. And the last Belgian victory? That was Johan Museeuw way back in 1994.
Let's take a look at the riders in the break group. Rafael Valls of Footon-Servetto is 22 years old and in his second pro year. The Spaniard rode last year for Burgos Monumental-Castilla y Leon. He got off to a good start this season, winning the second stage of the Tour de San Luis and wearing the leader's jersey for two days. He ended up third overall.
Staf Scheirlinckx of Omega Pharma-Lotto is 31, and turned pro with Palmans-Collstrop in 2000. After stops at Flanders and Cofidis, he joined his present time in 2009. The Belgian is noted for his height, 193 cm, or about 6 feet, 4 inches.
Peter “Paco” Wrolich of Milram is one of the older riders on the road. The 35-year-old Austrian has only ridden for two teams in his career, Gerolsteiner and Milram. His successes are far and few between, but he is best known as a helper and domestique, who put in solid work.
By the way, Valls was one of those who had to make a great effort to get here for today's race. He has a 1300 km auto trip behind him!
Sebastien Delfosse, 27, is a Belgian riding for Landbouwkrediet. He has been with the Professional team since 2008. His sister Catherine rides for the Lotto Ladies Team.
Thierry Hupond, 25, is a Frenchman who turned pro with Skil-Shimano in 2008. That same year he wore the mountain jersey in Paris-Nice for one day. He is another one who is looking for that first win.
Steven Van Vooren is 23 years old and Belgian riding for Topsport-Vlaanderen. He turned pro last year with An Post-Sean Kelly, and had two wins last year: Belsele-Pulvelde, and the overall title in the Ronde de l'Oise.
Arnoud Van Groen, 26, is a Dutchman riding for Vacansoliel, a team he joined last year. He finished second earlier this month in Dwars door Drenthe.
So who do you think is going to win today? Drop us a line at cyclingnews @ cyclingnews.com and let us know.
Andy Schleck wants to win today, of course, and not only for his own sake. As he wrote on his Cyclingnews blog, “But whatever happens, we've already had a huge victory with baby Leea, the biggest one we could ever imagine. Let’s see if we can win a race in her name...”
Janus of Denmark but living in Scotland picks Andy Schleck to win today. “Andy is obviously the favourite to win the entire race. Saxobank has the strongest team today, and some of the biggest rivals haven't even made it to the race because of the volcano. My money is on Andy.”
Things are holding steady. There is a six-minute gap still.
You can also tweet your thoughts on Amstel Gold Race at www.twitteâ��r.com/cyclâ��ingnewsfeeâ��d
Tobias of Sweden is picking Spaniard Joaquin Rodriguez of Russian team Katusha to win today.
Mapped out, the race course looks rather like a wild squiggle. Things start out with a dash up north to Sittard, then south and east before heading back west to the Cauberg for the first time. That is followed by another round down south – and frankly, it is too confusing to figure it out. The riders hit the Cauberg three times, including at the finish.
The race is a relatively new one, having first been run in 1966. The first edition was held on April 30, which is also Koninginnedag (Queen's Day) in the Netherlands, a major holiday. It was promptly moved to another date.
Jef Braeckevelt (Katusha) told Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé that he wanted to have one of his guys in the breakaway. "We have four protected riders so we don't have the numbers to work a lot in the peloton early on. Vorganov would be a good guy for the breakaway," Braeckevelt said.
Too bad for Katusha but they don't have anybody in front. Last year's winner Sergey Ivanov is one of the protected riders and Braeckevelt was confident the Russian champion would be good. "He's better than last year. If it comes down to a group sprint then Rodriguez is our guy."
The race finish moved to Maastricht in 1992, and the start moved to that city in 1998. In 2003, the finish moved to the Cauberg, near Valkenberg.
Denis from the Ukraine is a big Milram fan and is looking for great things today from Christian Knees, youngster Paul Voss, and Fabian Wegmann, who is riding his first race back after collarbone surgery. But his actual podium is: Sergey Ivanov, Paul Martens and Andy Schleck.
No changes on the road, to speak of. The gap has crept up to 6:15.
While lining up at the start line Sergey Ivanov (Katusha) explained to Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé that he had a perfect build-up towards the Amstel Gold Race. Two weeks earlier the Russian champion rode his last race when he finished at the back of the peloton (31th) that sprinted for fifth place in the Tour of Flanders. "During the week ahead of Flanders I was ill but still managed to ride well, so I was happy with that," Ivanov said.
This time Ivanov is doing all right healthwise but the Iceland volcano ruined his travel plans to return from his training location in Tenerife. Being on an island isn't a desired location in Europe these days. "I managed to get on a plane to Milano on Friday. Then I drove here. I arrived on Saturday at 5AM. Three hours later the doping inspectors stood at my door," Ivanov said. "That's far from ideal but the legs are feeling good right now."
The Austrian man in the breakaway group didn't have an easy trip to Maastricht. Peter Wrolich (Milram) needed 16 hours to travel from Klagenfurth, Austria to Maastricht, Netherlands. "I traveled by train and then two more hours in the car. Normally the train would be going at high speed but that didn't happen. A incident between Frankfurt and Köln with a loose door on another train caused my train to take another track... it was a mess.
"My legs are not great but we'll try our best," a tired looking Wrolich told Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé at the start in Maastricht. The Austrian kept his word and he even managed to get in the breakaway. Great effort!
Robert Gesink is carrying the Dutch hope for the win in their Amstel Gold Race. Last year Gesink finished third and he hoped to be in the mix for the win once again. "I'm ready. The difference with last year is that Oscar Freire lines up in great shape, and Paul Martens should be able to be there in the finale too. The team is stronger than last year," Gesink told Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé while enjoying the sun at the start this morning.
We have 145 km to go know, and the gap is up to 6:30. The leading group ahs reached the Camerig, so only 21 more climbs to go.
Milram's Fabian Wegmann is making his comeback in the peloton after breaking his collarbone during the Tirrenno-Adriatico. The German hoped that he would be able to play his role in the finale. "I was only out for five days. I wasn't in much pain and don't feel it during training. During the race it will not be on my mind. I hope I can be up there but I'm lacking the race rhythm, so maybe I shouldn't race as aggressive as usually," Wegmann told Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé.
Milram DS Christian Henn said before the race that all of his riders should try to get into the day's escape group – except for Christian Knees and Fabian Wegmann. Knees is the team's captain, and Wegmann has freedom to do what he wants.
Has the volcano ash cloud claimed its first victim in this race? The motor of the race director's car has blown, forcing him to move into another VIP car.
Maxime Monfort of HTC-Columbia punctured, but shouldn't have any trouble getting back to the peloton. They aren't exactly flying along right now.
Xavier Tondo of Cervelo TestTeam spoke to Cyclingnews' Daniel Benson this morning. “I drove myself down here. It was around 1,200 kilometres. My flights were cancelled but I live in Girona and there was no other option. I did the drive in two days, with a stop over at a hotel.
“Today’s a special race and it’s my first time here. In fact there are three riders on the team who have not raced here before. We’ve only got five riders so it’s a little difficult for us. It’s worth the travel though. It’s not a problem. When I was an amateur I used to travel much further.”
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) had a journey of “only” 1300km, but he told Cyclingnews' Daniel Benson, “I wasn’t doing the driving and could just zone out. I’m feeling good and this week has come together quite well. It’s strange that Caisse have only three riders here but there’s always something that makes a race different. We’ll have to see how it goes.”
Still 125km to go. Rabobank is at the head of the peloton, keeping an eye on things. And that includes keeping the seven leaders under control -- the gap is now down to 5:25.
The one-and-only Dutch ProTour team Rabobank has sent a strong squad to the race. Oscar Freire will try to come over the climbs and take the win – but will have a long and strenuous trip from Italy behind him. Robert Gesink is the other team leader, and the climbs could play to his strengths. Behind them are Nick Nuyens and Lars Boom. Nuyens has had a number of crashes this spring, and Boom so far has not done well in any race over 200km.
We now hear that Fränk Schleck crashed earlier in the race, with Jim Ochowicz twittering that it looked like “he landed hard.” But the Saxo Bank rider has managed to make it back up with the help of this teammates.
In fact the Danish team has moved to the head of the field and pushed the speed so much that the peloton is strung out single file, with some riders already being dropped.
Cyclingnews' Daniel Benson also talked to Simon Gerrans before the race. The Team Sky Australian said, “My legs are okay. Wednesday was a tough race but I think I’ve recovered quite well. With this race missing a few names it could be a bit different but we just have to make the decisions out on the road and keep an open mind. It’s beautiful conditions but you don’t know how the finale could play out. There are some really strong teams here and they’ll be looking to break things.”
Chris Horner of RadioShack may claim the prize for longest journey. “I drove around 1,800Ks with Tomas Vaitkus. Well he did most of the driving, I took over for an hour here or there but we drove through the night,” he told Cyclingnews' Daniel Benson.
“I've got some good form and I’m sure it’s still there. It could be thirty guys on the last climb but I hope not, not after driving all that way.”
Jakob Fuglsang looks for his Saxo Bank team to take the win today. “I’m really excited and it could be a great day for the team,” he told Cyclingnews' Daniel Benson. “Sure, we’re one of the strongest teams but with Caisse starting with only three riders it makes the chances better for us. Today my role is help the Schlecks win. I know Andy wants to win but I know that Fränk is really motivated, it’s going to be the one that attacks first.”
And of course Andy Shleck had some words of wisdom to share with us. “The key points are the final three climbs and for Fränk and me we can’t wait for the sprint. We have to try something before. We’ll see how the legs are but I feel good. If I don’t crash I’ll be up at the front and if everything goes as planned I’ll be there.
“Valverde was defiantly a favourite for this race. If it was me I would have driven. I would have taken the car. Katusha are a big threat and Rabobank are the biggest threats for today.”
Jim of Austin, Texas, is worried about the volcano. “Are there health concerns for the riders racing through volcanic ash fallout?” he asks. Well, since we are breathing that same air, we certainly hope not!
Seriously, though, we have heard that so far, there is absolutely no danger. The ash is all staying up there in its cloud, way up above us all. However, if things should change and it comes down, it could pose a problem to people with bronchial and respiratory problems.
Cadel Evans (BMC) drove from his home in southern Switzerland to ride Amstel Gold Race. He's to help Dutch teammate Karsten Kroon today but then will target Fleche-Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege
"If Karsten has the got the legs then I'm happy to help him, Cadel said. "It was a long trip but we made it okay. This is an important week for me and then I'll turn my attention to the Giro d'Italia."
Rabobank and Saxo Bank are working together at the head of the chase, and have brought the gap down to 4:15.
Ivanov had a mechanical problem, but is back in the group.
Rabobank and Saxo Bank have control over the peloton, and now I am about to turn over control of this live report to Dan Benson.
With 100 km to go, the gap is melting away like crazy. They are now going up the Eyserbosweg climb.
The peloton are on a climb and we've seen on Saxo rider take huge risks to move up. he jumped onto the curb for around 50 meters accelerated and then jumped back into the road, only missing a car by a few inches. Brave stuff.
Every time I do live there's a crash. And this time it's a Garmin-Transitions rider and someone from Lampre down on the ground. The Garmin rider is back up but the La.,...ah it's a Quick stepper needs some help from the team car. It looks like they just touched wheels there.
Leaders are on the Vrakelberg now and the gap is down to 3:13. Meanwhile one of the three Caisse riders needs a team car. I think he's got a puncture.
The peloton reach the climb with a sudden right-hander and they almost come to a total stop at the back of the bunch. Saxo on the front with Fuglsang. If Riis can't find a sponsor for next year the young Dane is going to be one of the hottest riders on the market.
Not much as been said about Ivanov - last year's winner. He's a quiet chap but he's in the middle of the bunch having a word with Karsten Kroon (BMC). They'll know it each other well. Last year's race finished with Ivanov in first and Kroon in second place.
Andy Schleck is at the back of the main field now. He was probably back with the team car although we didn't see. The field will be sweeping through Valkenberg quite soon but the break are still working well together. Rabo have come to the front of the main field. A few riders were dropped on that last climb, mainly due to so many team cars getting in the way.
Lots of pressure on Rabobank to deliver - it being their home race and all. There were 8 Rabo team cars at the race this morning. I'm sure they'll be full of VIPS and sponsors today. My invite must have got lost in the post. But back onto another sharp climb and the men in orange are setting the pace. Saxo waiting in the wings for now. Katusha have been quiet so far but I'm sure that will change.
The leaders are on the Cauberg now and the crowds are huge. Back in the bunch, Lars Boom, has sat up. He's done his work for the day. He was 100/1 to win this race.
The leaders are passing through the feed now with the bunch closing in even further. The gap less than three minutes.
This doesn't look good for Andy Schleck. he's just coasting along now and being passed by riders on both sides. He's on the Cauberg but he's not looking great as he gets out of the saddle. He's back with a team car now and they're checking him out, playing with his pedals or shoes.
The bunch have crested the Cauberg, Boom well off the back with just a Footon rider for company. Quite a few riders will be packing now as they feed is just by the team buses. Don't worry, CN has foot soldiers out by the buses so we'll bring you updates as soon as we have them.
Word on the street or from the team car is that Andy Schleck simply had a pedal problem.
There are ten more climbs to come in today's race with the Cauberg the final one. There's one climb coming up in a few mins and then a slight lull before the Wolfsberg at 215km.
Nice shot from the back of the bunch as Pozzato, Andy Schleck and Dimitri Champion - all national champions - ride alongside each other.
The bunch take a left hand turn, splitting all over the road due to a roundabout. Then a right hander where they have to do the same. This will help the leaders a lot. Attack from the bunch as one rider decides he's had enough. It's Martin Velits from HTC-Columbia.
The leaders are still tapping out a nice pace as they tackle the Bemelerberg. You can tell the bunch hasn't woken up yet though as another rider is able to sneak off the front. This time it's a rider from Astana who moves clear but he's quickly joined by around a dozen riders and then the rest of the bunch. They need to start cutting this lead down pretty soon.
Rabobank are back on the front and leading the charge with a little help from Garmin-Tranisitions. The gap is down to under 5 minutes now.
Huge crowds on the Bemelerberg, at least 4-5 deep. The great weather has brought out a lot of support.
Niki Terpstra attacks on the climb and gets away. A quick look over his shoulder and he gets back to business.
Niki Terpstra (Milram) is about to be reeled in by the bunch. The leaders are on a small, tight road and their next climb will be the Wolfsberg but it's not for another 12K or so. Their lead is down to around four minutes now as Lampre decide to show their face at the head of the peloton.
Ivanov is near the front for the first time today as Saxo and Lampre share the work.
The gap is coming down and it's coming down fast. Just 3:30 between the leaders and the bunch with three riders sandwiched in between. None of the favourites have shown their hand yet but that will change in the next few minutes as we reach the final set of climbs - eight in total.
Wearing hearing that Timmy Dugan (Garmin-Transitions) is out with a broken collar bone.
That's Duggan, not Dugan. Apologies.
Fuglsang is still setting the pace for Saxo but the question is how long before we see Jens Voigt hit the front of the race? The gap is just 2:28.
A brutal combo of tired legs and fast pace sees Mathias Frank (BMC) lose contact with the bunch.
And there's Evans, quietly moving up the bunch with Horner close by. Can Evans win BMC's first race of the season? They do need a break and after last year's Worlds everyone knows he can win one day races.
The three riders have been caught and we have just two groups on the road. Shack have joined the chase, with Horner now fourth in line. He had to drive 1,800K to get to the start. What a story it would be if he won today. To be honest, what's 250K after 1,800...
The leaders aren't going through like they were before, clearly they know that the game is up. They're on the slopes of the Wolfsberg now but the gap is hovering at around a minute.
Rabobank are leading the bunch while behind them there's a fight for position with all the favourites jostling for a place at the front.
We've not really talked about Lampre much today but in Cunego they have a real card for today. He of course won the race in 2008 and on his day he's one of the best riders in the world. The finish suits him too.
And there is Cunego, sitting behind a gaggle of Rabobank riders. If anyone knows what the collective noun is for a group of Rabobank riders please let me know.
Now we're into the final 35K and the gap is under 20 seconds. Almost game over for our leaders. Who will be the first to attack and kick this race into life?
Now we're into the final 35K and the gap is under 20 seconds. Almost game over for our leaders. Who will be the first to attack and kick this race into life?
Oscar Freire is still there. The final climb is pretty steep but he'll fancy his chances if it all stays together. Gesink is still there too.
Someone attack. Please...
We're on the Gulperberg now and Saxo continue to lead the bunch. This is a tough one though and everyone is out of the saddle. No fireworks just yet though but the field is getting smaller.
One rider that is struggling is Joaquin Rodriguez. Now that is a surprise as for many he was one of the favourites for this race.
Sylvain Chavanel grabs a wheel from a teammate and is forced to chase back on. Now back to Susan.
Chavanel is now back and going. Thanks for taking over Dan. I will now take you all to the finish line.
World champion Cadel Evans now leads the field.
An AG2R rider is down, Rene Mandri, and he is not jumping up again....
Mandri is getting medical assistance now.
Now an Astana rider and Andy Schleck move into the lead as they climb again.
Marccato of Vacansoleil has taken off. So far they are willing to let him go.
Marcato got away on the Kruisberg, and they are all down it now. Only four more climbs to go.
We have a number of autos parked on the road, and Marcato just narrowly avoided one, coming around a corner.
And now Marcato makes his way up the Eyserbosweg for the second -- and last -- time.
Andy Schleck attacks!
Schelck has caught Marcato, but not alone. Who is that, Gilbet perhaps? And Cunego. And a few others. They have a tidy little lead now.
Kreuziger and Nibali are giving chase and along with two others, have caught the lead group.
A Garmin rider leads the chase.
Among those in teh lead group are Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil), Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma Lotto), Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Roman Kreuziger and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha).
The group isn't going to make it though. The peloton is right behind them.
Another group has gotten away now. Cunego jumps -- who will follow?
Gesink has to let them go. He is near the back of his group.
F. Schleck, Cunego, Gilbert and Kolobnev are the four in the lead.
Evans leads the first chase group.
The break is over, the four are caught. We await the next attack momentarily.
Ivanov is the next to go. He'd sure like to win here again.
The Russian pulls away.
Gilbert is determined today. He gives furious chse. He is now yet with Ivanov, but the two have a nice lead. And who is the next chaser? Cadel Evans!
Ivanov and Gilbert are together now.
vnas is catching the two leaders on the Keutenberg.
Ivanov goes again.
Evans passes Gilbert, who can't keep up. But the field isn't that far away either.
Ivanov is alone in front. Gilbert is now leading the chase group of four, as Evans has fallen back.
Gilbert has passed Ivanov, and is alone in the lead. Ivanov now struggles to hang on to the other three.
F. Schleck, Kolobnev, Cunego and Ivanov are chasing Gilbert.
Gilbert has only a minimal lead, about 10 seconds.
The four chasers will have Gilbert any second now.
Gilbert is caught. Kolobnev is the next to go. Schleck tries to go with him.
Kolobnev pulls away from Ivanov, Gilbert, Cunego and Schleck.
Kolobnev continues to pull away, but his pursuers don't give up.
Maybe 10 seconds for Kolobnev?
9 seconds for Kolobnev over this four chasers, and the next group is 19 seconds back.
Kolobnev heads into Valkenberg, with a 10 second lead.
The quartet is about to be caught by a larger field, which includes Evans, Freire, Kroon.
a Liquigas rider shoots out and passes the group of four.
Kolobnev holds on to his lead.
Gesink has come back and moved to the front of the chase group.
Gesink goes out of the lead work. Kolobnev starts his way up the Cauberg.
Gilbert is at the head of the chase. KolobnevÄs lead is not quite 10 seconds, Oops, make that less....
Chavanel attacks and passes Kolobnev.
A groupof about 20 is plugging its way up. Gilbert goes!
Gilbert pulls away and takes the win!
What a relief for Philippe GIlbert and his Pharma Omega-Lotto team!
The happy winner blows kisses and accepts the congratulations of his rivals.
Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Transitions was second, with Astana's Gasparotto taking third.
It's hard to believe, but that was Omega Pharma-Lotto's first win of the season. And what a win!
Congratulations to Philippe Gilbert, who has certainly helped to rescue Belgian cycling in the Classics, and his own team in a season which got off to less than an optimal start.
Thanks for reading along with us.