Philippe Gilbert brought Omega Pharma-Lotto's eight month dry spell of victories to a dramatic end at the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday afternoon. The Belgian put in a ferocious attack on the final ascent of the Cauberg to claim victory several bike lengths clear of Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transtions), who sprinted past Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) in the closing meters of the race.
"I started as a favourite, so it's just beautiful to be able to win it and live up to the expectations," said Gilbert, who has been living inside a pressure cooker of Belgian expectation throughout the Classics season so far.
"From Milano-Sanremo on my form constantly improved. During the winter I said these are my races. I wanted to be good in Flanders but especially this week. I'm on schedule, right on time. It's not easy [to get it right]," he continued.
Gilbert's race winning move came moments after a 30-strong peloton had swallowed up Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) at the base of the event's famed uphill finish. Gilbert and Kolobnev had formed part of a five man attack group, which had formed after the Keutenberg with less than 11 kilometres remaining.
Kolobnev's ill-fated move had come with seven kilometres to go, before the chase groups reformed into one and dashed Katusha's hopes of back-to-back victories at the race.
For the victor however, the relief was palpable as he embraced each of his teammates in turn. The most emotional reaction came from Omega Pharma-Lotto manager, Marc Sargeant, who couldn't wipe the grin off his face as he hugged Gilbert firmly before the podium presentation at the top of the Cauberg.
Although two seconds shy of Gilbert at the finish, second placed Ryder Hesjedal was elated after securing the best Classics result of his career. “I couldn’t be more pleased. It’s insane,” he told Cyclingnews as he rode to the post-race press conference.
“This means a lot. I started to see myself as a rider for these races a few years ago and I’ve got nothing but the utmost respect for these events. This is my fifth Amstel and it was one of the first races in did in 2004. I remember coming off the back after 180 kilometres and couldn’t fathom how you get to the finish - now I realise how,” he said.
Hesjedal and Gilbert are likely to lock horns at least once more in the next week. While the 2010 Amstel Champion downplayed his expections for Flèche Wallone this Wednesday, Liège-Bastogne-Liège has been circled for Ardennes Classic number two.
"Liège is a dream for me," said Gilbert. "This victory will boost my moral. Flèche is not a race for me. It's a nice race, but the finish is a bit too long and too steep for me."
A tale of volcanoes and the journey to Valkenberg
The 45th edition of the Amstel Gold Race will be remembered for the influence of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano that had caused teams such enormous logistical problems in the days leading up to the race.
With no air travel possible in North and Western Europe, several big name favourites opted to skip the biggest Dutch one-day race, including Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne), Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky). Last year's winner Serguei Ivanov (Katusha) and a dozen other riders had spent long hours in cars and trains to get in Maastricht.
Peter Wrolich (Milram) drove from Austria, but still had plenty of energy for the race as he featured in the early breakaway of seven men that formed almost immediately after the start. Rafael Valls (Footon-Servetto), Staf Scheirlinckx (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Sebastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet), Thierry Hupond (Skil-Shimano), Steven Van Vooren (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Arnaud van Groen (Vacansoleil) were Wrolich's six companions. The seven quickly built up a gap of almost seven minutes, with Lars Boom (Rabobank) doing most of the work in the peloton to help keep them under control.
By the time the leaders hit the Cauberg for the second time, after 181km, Valls Ferri had dropped away and the gap was down to four and a half minutes, to a group of three chasers: Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano), Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Dirk Bellemakers (Landbouwkrediet) that had formed in the interim.
A relaxed peloton was a further 30 seconds behind with Rabobank still riding tempo on the front. Seventeen kilometres later last year's winner of the Herman Krott trophy for the most aggressive rider, Niki Terpstra (Milram), launched a solo counter-attack on the Bemelerberg. The Dutch rider pulled off a chasse-patate [a European cycling team for a rider with little chance of bridging]. He rode alone in between the leader's group and the peloton for a while but was quickly caught by the bunch, with the only result being that he used a lot of energy.
The true race begins
Approaching the deciding climbs with fifty kilometres to go, the six leaders had 2:46 on the three chasers and three minutes on the peloton. Despite riding for 200 kilometres, the race had yet to begin in earnest and while the earlier climbs had begun to create a selection, most of the favourites retained their positions in the main group.
The difference in speed between the tired leaders and the peloton was now evident and with thirty kilometres to go the breakaway was neutralized and the finale of the race could get underway.
Saxo Bank took the initiative and hammered away at the front the peloton in the approach to climb number 26, the Gulperberg. There were no attacks in front, but the high speed caused many casualties, among them was co-favourite Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Katusha), who was spotted struggling at the back.
"Saxo Bank took the race in their hand rather early on," said Gilbert afterwards of the impetus inserted into the race by the Danish squad. "They tried to make the race harder. The [Schleck] brothers were as strong as expected, just like Ivanov. It wasn't obvious to know what to do."
Steaming towards the famous quartet of climbs (the Kruisberg, Eyserbosweg, Fromberg and Keutenberg) it was world champion Cadel Evans who was led the peloton into the short but steep series of ascents.
Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil) launched the first serious attack on the Kruisberg, with twenty-two kilometers to go, and he created a nice gap, although his body language indicated that he had hoped to receive some support in his endeavour.
On the steep climb of the Eyserbosweg the first big gun fired when Andy Schleck attacked and bridged up to Marcato. The move from the Luxemburg champion was quickly marked by Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Fränk Schleck and Johnny Hoogerland (Vancansoleil). Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) and Alexandr Kolobnev (Saxo Bank) bridged up little later.
The group established itself a small gap over the peloton and on the Fromberg it was Fränk Schleck's turn to attack. Cunego countered and only Gilbert, Fränk Schleck and Kolobnev were able to keep up with the surge.
Despite those salvos the race again came back together after the Fromberg. On the section in between the Fromberg and the Keutenberg, Ivanov snuck away together with Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto). On the climb itself, Ivanov went solo.
Gilbert and Cadel Evans were the first to respond to the attack, the duo bridging to the Russian Champion. A second attack from Ivanov detached them once more as Gilbert and Evans assumed positions in the first and second chase groups, respectively.
Gilbert again went in search of Ivanov. This time, he caught and passed his prey as the hunter quickly became the hunted. Behind, Cunego, Kolobnev, Fränk Schleck and now Ivanov represented the first chase group.
However, Gilbert was dragged back into the selection, precipitating an immediate attack from Kolobnev. The Russian scooted away to a ten second lead over the now his pursuers, with an increasingly tenuous gap to a second chase group at 20 seconds.
With five kilometres to go, Kolobnev began to show the strain of his effort as the two chase groups reformed into one behind him. Nibali led the charge of the now 30-strong peloton, with Rabobank taking over as they charged towards the base of the final climb.
As the Cauberg reared, Kolobnev's day was done as the chasers streamed past him on the lower slopes of the famed ascent. Despite the frantic movement of the group, a moment of peace ensued, before Gilbert fired out of the right-hand-side of the group. The Omega Pharma captain put his head down and it wasn't until he passed beneath the bridge that crosses the course at 300 metres-to-go that he risked a look behind.
He liked what he saw. A fist pump told the story as he relaxed from his enormous effort 100 metres before the line. His arms rose to the sky as he was the first to bath in the warm afternoon sun that greeted the riders at the summit. Behind, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) put in a final effort to overcome Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) for second place.
|1||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||6:22:54|
|2||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions||0:00:02|
|3||Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana|
|4||Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet||0:00:05|
|5||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo|
|6||Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini|
|7||Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank||0:00:07|
|8||Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team||0:00:09|
|9||Karsten Kroon (Ned) BMC Racing Team||0:00:11|
|10||Chris Horner (USA) Team Radioshack|
|11||Paul Martens (Ger) Rabobank|
|12||Sergie Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha|
|13||Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team|
|14||Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank||0:00:17|
|15||Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Team Katusha|
|16||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step||0:00:19|
|17||Haimar Zubeldia Aguirre (Spa) Team RadioShack||0:00:21|
|18||Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank||0:00:25|
|19||Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Quick Step||0:00:37|
|20||Jurgen Vandenbroeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:00:46|
|21||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||0:00:56|
|22||Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Team Katusha||0:01:11|
|23||Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank||0:01:38|
|24||Bjorn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team||0:02:02|
|25||Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Team Milram|
|26||Nick Nuyens (Bel) Rabobank||0:02:07|
|27||Xavier Florencio Cabre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team||0:02:11|
|28||Benoit Vaugrenard (Fra) Française Des Jeux||0:02:18|
|29||Bram Tankink (Ned) Rabobank||0:02:25|
|30||Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi|
|31||Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||0:02:29|
|32||Fabio Felline (Ita) Footon-Servetto||0:02:34|
|33||Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale||0:02:36|
|34||Manuele Mori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||0:02:56|
|35||Johan Coenen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator||0:03:19|
|36||Simon Geschke (Ger) Skil - Shimano|
|37||Bert Scheirlinckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|38||Jerome Baugnies (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|39||Roy Sentjens (Bel) Team Milram|
|40||Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana|
|41||Michel Kreder (Ned) Garmin - Transitions|
|42||Michael Albasini (Swi) Team HTC - Columbia|
|43||Juan Jose Oroz Ugalde (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi|
|44||Geert Verheyen (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|45||Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|46||Inaki Isasi Flores (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi|
|47||Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Astana|
|48||Rob Ruygh (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|49||David Loosli (Swi) Lampre-Farnese Vini||0:03:26|
|50||Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz) Astana||0:03:28|
|51||Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi|
|52||Kjell Carlstrom (Fin) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|53||Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank|
|54||Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|55||Maxime Montfort (Bel) Team HTC - Columbia|
|56||Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC - Columbia||0:03:32|
|57||Aitor Perez Arrieta (Spa) Footon-Servetto|
|58||Luca Mazzanti (Ita) Team Katusha||0:03:38|
|59||Daniele Pietropolli (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini|
|60||Jussi Veikkanen (Fin) Française Des Jeux|
|61||Johannes Frohlinger (Ger) Team Milram|
|62||Nicki Sorensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank|
|63||Ivan Rovny (Rus) Team Radioshack|
|64||Simon Gerrans (Aus) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|65||Sandy Casar (Fra) Française Des Jeux|
|66||Biel Kadri (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|67||Christian Knees (Ger) Team Milram|
|68||Anthony Roux (Fra) Française Des Jeux||0:03:45|
|69||Ivan Velasco Murillo (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||0:03:52|
|70||Matteo Bono (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini|
|71||Marco Pinotti (Ita) Team HTC - Columbia||0:03:59|
|72||Matteo Carrara (Ita) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|73||Christophe Brandt (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:04:02|
|74||Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|75||Albert Timmer (Ned) Skil - Shimano||0:08:59|
|76||Christopher Froome (Ken) Sky Professional Cycling Team||0:10:20|
|77||Marcel Wyss (Swi) Cervelo Test Team||0:10:31|
|78||Bart Dockx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|79||Jacob Fuglsang (Den) Team Saxo Bank|
|80||Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Team Katusha|
|81||Imanol Erviti (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne|
|82||Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|83||Mathew Hayman (Aus) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|84||Steven Van Vooren (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|85||Kristjan Koren (Slo) Liquigas-Doimo|
|86||Roy Curvers (Ned) Skil - Shimano|
|87||Arnoud Van Groen (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|88||Maxime Bouet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|89||Markus Eibegger (Aut) Footon-Servetto|
|90||Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing Team|
|91||Mirko Selvaggi (Ita) Astana|
|92||Serguei Klimov (Rus) Team Katusha|
|93||Kristof Vandewalle (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|94||Sander Armee (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|95||Dimitri Champion (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|96||Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale|
|97||Ivan Santaromita (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo|
|98||Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Rabobank|
|99||Jurgen Van De Walle (Bel) Quick Step|
|100||Mario Aerts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|101||Dimitri Muravyev (Kaz) Team Radioshack|
|102||Daniele Righi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini|
|103||Francis Mourey (Fra) Française Des Jeux|
|104||Xavier Tondo Volpini (Spa) Cervelo Test Team|
|105||Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:11:19|
|106||Tony Martin (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia|
|107||Wouter Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team|
|108||Jose Vinc Garcia Acosta (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||0:11:37|
|109||Alessandro Spezialetti (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||0:14:25|
|110||Dario Cataldo (Ita) Quick Step|
|111||Christian Meier (Can) Garmin - Transitions|
|112||Dominik Roels (Ger) Team Milram|
|113||Manuel Antonio Cardoso (Por) Footon-Servetto|
|114||Koen De Kort (Ned) Skil - Shimano|
|115||Thierry Hupond (Fra) Skil - Shimano|
|116||Preben Vanhecke (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|117||Mouro Finetto (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo|
|118||Addy Engels (Ned) Quick Step|
|119||Sebastien Delfosse (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|DNF||Joaquin Rodriquezoliver (Spa) Team Katusha|
|DNF||Maxime Vantomme (Bel) Team Katusha|
|DNF||Martin Elmiger (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Rene Mandri (Est) AG2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Allan Davis (Aus) Astana|
|DNF||Scott Davis (Aus) Astana|
|DNF||Valentin Iglinskiy (Kaz) Astana|
|DNF||David Lopezgarcia (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne|
|DNF||Aitor Galdos (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi|
|DNF||Alan Perezlezaun (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi|
|DNF||Matthias Brandle (Aut) Footon-Servetto|
|DNF||Eros Capecchi (Ita) Footon-Servetto|
|DNF||Martin Pedersen (Den) Footon-Servetto|
|DNF||Rafael Valls (Alb) Footon-Servetto|
|DNF||Gianni Meersman (Bel) Française Des Jeux|
|DNF||Wesley Sulzberger (Aus) Française Des Jeux|
|DNF||Steven Cozza (USA) Garmin - Transitions|
|DNF||Timothy Duggan (USA) Garmin - Transitions|
|DNF||Martijn Maaskant (Ned) Garmin - Transitions|
|DNF||Danny Pate (USA) Garmin - Transitions|
|DNF||Ricardo Vandervelde (Ned) Garmin - Transitions|
|DNF||Francesco Belloti (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo|
|DNF||Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo|
|DNF||Frederik Willems (Bel) Liquigas-Doimo|
|DNF||Gerben Lowik (Ned) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|DNF||Jean-Christophe Perraud (Fra) Omega Pharma-Lotto|
|DNF||Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick Step|
|DNF||Kevin Deweert (Bel) Quick Step|
|DNF||Jerome Pineau (Fra) Quick Step|
|DNF||Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank|
|DNF||Russell Downing (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|DNF||Davide Vigano (Ita) Sky Professional Cycling Team|
|DNF||Martin Velits (Svk) Team HTC - Columbia|
|DNF||Niki Terpstra (Ned) Team Milram|
|DNF||Paul Voss (Ger) Team Milram|
|DNF||Peter Wrolich (Aut) Team Milram|
|DNF||Ben Hermans (Bel) Team Radioshack|
|DNF||Fuyu Li (Chn) Team Radioshack|
|DNF||Roman Vaitkus (Ltu) Team Radioshack|
|DNF||Jonas Aaen-Jorgensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank|
|DNF||Andre Steensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank|
|DNF||Laurent Didier (Lux) Team Saxo Bank|
|DNF||Jens Voigt (Ger) Team Saxo Bank|
|DNF||Brent Bookwalters (USA) BMC Racing Team|
|DNF||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) BMC Racing Team|
|DNF||Mathias Frank (Swi) BMC Racing Team|
|DNF||Jeffry Louder (USA) BMC Racing Team|
|DNF||Simon Zahner (Swi) BMC Racing Team|
|DNF||Davide Appollonio (Ita) Cervelo Test Team|
|DNF||Philip Deignan (Irl) Cervelo Test Team|
|DNF||Dirk Bellemakers (Ned) Landbouwkrediet|
|DNF||Davy Commeyne (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|DNF||Kevin Neyrinck (Bel) Landbouwkrediet|
|DNF||Floris Goesinnen (Ned) Skil - Shimano|
|DNF||Yann Huguet (Fra) Skil - Shimano|
|DNF||Piet Rooijakkers (Ned) Skil - Shimano|
|DNF||Pieter Jacobs (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|
|DNF||Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator|