For much of the final 30 kilometres of the Amstel Gold Race, there looked likely to be only one outcome to the Dutch Classic at the finish in Berg en Terblijt. With Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) out on their own, the finale was reminiscent of Strade Bianche, where the duo rode together for the last 20km before the Frenchman triumphed in Tuscany.
While the script bore a resemblance to that of the Italian Classic heading to the finish, it was torn up in extraordinary fashion in the closing kilometres. With Alaphilippe thought to have a better sprint, Fuglsang sat back as the duo neared the line.
The result was a fatal slowing of the pace, which let the chasing group led by Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) and Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) make the catch in the final kilometre. Naturally, both Fuglsang and Alaphilippe had differing opinions on what went down.
“I told him when we went that he had to pull, and that this time I should win instead of him,” Fuglsang joked to Eurosport after the finish. “But it didn’t work out. He didn’t agree and we ended up in third and fourth.”
It was another fine result for the Dane, who continued his impressive vein of form to start the season. After winning the Vuelta a Andalucía, taking a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico, and finishing second at Strade Bianche, the podium at Amstel Gold is another outstanding result.
But missing out on a possible victory inevitably brings disappointment, both in the result and how he got there.
“I said to them in the car, when they didn’t want me to pull anymore, that they needed to give me the times to the group behind,” he said. “They told me in the last kilometre that they were 20 seconds behind.
“I looked behind me and saw Kwiatkowski 10 metres back. That’s not 20 seconds, so you guys got it wrong. So it’s a little bittersweet.
“I managed to get on the podium and the legs were there, but I still believe that, had I kept doing turns with Alaphilippe a little longer and maybe waited to play until the last kilometre, it would’ve turned out to be a minimum of second place, or possible victory. But that’s cycling, eh?”
While Fuglsang wasn’t getting the correct information over the radio, the same could be said for Alaphilippe, too, in what is emerging as a common theme given that race winner Van der Poel has said the same. The Frenchman implied that maybe the time gaps weren’t as reliable as the television pictures indicated.
“I’m not disappointed that I didn’t win, but I’m disappointed in the way I did,” he told Het Nieuwsblad. “At two kilometres from the finish, the director of the race told us that we had a 35-second lead. That means those other riders raced 15 seconds per kilometre faster than we did. I think that’s impossible.”
Alaphilippe, who has enjoyed a golden spring of his own with wins at Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo, plus stages at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Basque Country, added that he thought Fuglsang would co-operate for longer. Cramps for Alaphilippe in the final kilometre meant that the Dane could even have gone on to win.
“Honestly, I’m not sure what happened,” he continued. “I gave the maximum from the moment I attacked, to the finish line. Jakob and I worked well together and I thought we were going to sprint for the victory.
“Jakob didn’t want to take over from the last kilometre onwards. I also got some cramps, which is not illogical, given the heat, but I kept up the pace. I don’t understand what happened afterwards.”
Confusion may have reigned, but Fuglsang was clear about what should have happened in that lead group, and what went down there, some 35km after the pair made their bid for victory on the Eyserbosweg,
“In the end, he's the one who's lost out today,” said Fuglsang. “He would have had a big chance to win if he'd pulled on, and I still did most of the work out there.
“From when he attacked, I was still the one who was putting in the most effort because he always said that he was fucked. But he did the same at Strade Bianche, and there he still got me, so that's the game – that's the tactic."