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Gilbert keeps his promise on the Cauberg

By:
Brecht Decaluwé

Belgian gets Omega Pharma-Lotto's first win in style

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.

Full Results
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