Nathan Haas (Dimension Data) repaid his team’s faith with a fourth-place finish Sunday at the 2017 Amstel Gold Race, making the late selection and falling just short of the podium in the finale, where Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) outkicked Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) to take his fourth win in the first round of the Ardennes Classics.
“Today, everybody was just awesome,” Haas said after the finish. “We have had a lot of bad luck in the past few months and the Classics haven’t been what the guys deserved after all their hard work. Today, we really wanted to put a pin in it. We went in to this race with only one goal in mind; to race it with balls. Win or lose.”
Johann Van Zyl started Dimension Data’s assault on the Dutch WorldTour race, infiltrating a breakaway of 12 riders that quickly gained a good gap, but concerted chasing from the favourites’ teams started brining the gap down over the final 100km.
“Johann [Van Zyl] did a great job in the break representing, and even when it came back, he still went to the front to pull,” Haas said. “There really is a lot of conviction in this team. We all believe in what we are doing, and we fight to race for a reason. I can’t thank the guys enough. This is a very stressful race, but they looked after me all day, eliminating all that stress.”
The bunch made the catch with about 40km to go, and a counter attack from Gilbert quickly set things in motion once more, with Haas, Kwiatkowski and five others managing to latch onto Gilbert’s move.
The new lead group poured the power into their attack and managed to build a workable advantage as they rode together into the final kilometres. The alliance began to shatter, however, as Kwiatkowski lit out on the Bemelberg and only Gilbert could follow.
Haas tried to bridge to the duo when they were still almost within reaching distance, but the powerful duo was too much for Haas, and he eventually slipped back into the fold of the six remaining chasers.
Although Gilbert and Kwiatkowski slowed in the final kilometer as they each tried to outmaneuver the other, the cahseres were never able to get back on terms with the leaders, leaving the pair to sprint it out on their own.
Behind, Haas was unable to match the sprint of Orica-Scott’s Michael Albasini, missing the final podium spot but taking away a boost in confidence heading forward.
“I put the pressure on myself because I felt my legs were strong enough to hold it,” Haas said. “I haven’t won too many races from a small select group. It’s usually after a reduced group sprint, so this performance really felt like some kind of psychological breakthrough for me. I’m really proud of myself today.”