A drained looking Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) admitted after Amstel Gold Race that he and his fellow members of the chase behind winner Philippe Gilbert (BMC) had hesitated too long, to the point where they allowed Lotto-Belisol’s Jelle Vanendert’s to clip past them and take second place.
“It’s just like last year,” was Movistar director Jose Luis Arrieta’s succinct post-race analysis as he clambered aboard the team bus for an Amstel post-mortem with Valverde. “Last year [Roman] Kreuziger got away in the finale [Valverde taking second behind the solo attacker] and this time we got fourth.” In the 2012 Worlds, too, in an almost identical scenario, Valverde had had to settle for bronze on the same finale, also behind Gilbert.
Expectations, though, had perhaps been higher this time round, given that Valverde has had a spectacularly successful spring campaign, with seven wins already to his name in 2014. But ultimately, as Valverde told Cyclingnews, even a podium finish, which would have been his twelfth top three result of 2014, slipped out of his clutches.
“It’s clear that winning is always very difficult and we have to congratulate Gilbert, he was way superior to the rest of us,” Valverde admitted. One rung down in the pecking order decided by the Cauberg, he said, “there was a group of us: [Simon] Gerrans [Orica-GreenEDGE], [Michal] Kwiatkowski [Omega Pharma-Quick Step] and me, but then Vanendert slipped past us in the finale and pushed me off the podium.
“The team raced well, though, and we were up there fighting until the finale.”
The million dollar question, though, is whether Valverde thought the small group of the strongest chasers – Gerrans, Kwiatkowski and himself – could have caught Gilbert with a greater degree of collaboration. His answer to that was a firm “no,” but he acknowledged that other, lesser prizes, though, had fallen through his clutches.
“When Gilbert went for it, he got a two metre gap and he was gone. It was a really, really strong attack, either you were on his wheel straight away or there was no chance of getting back to him,” Valverde said. “I have to congratulate him again, he did a great job.”
He admitted that having lacked the strength to match Gilbert, he and three chasers made a collective strategic error by watching each other for too long and allowing Vanendert to regain ground.
“We knew that we weren’t ever going to catch Gilbert, we were watching each other too closely and Vanendert got past. We were watching each other and it was ‘you take a turn, go on,’ or ‘no you take a turn’ and then Vandendert was gone. We knew we couldn’t have got Gilbert back, but Vanendert would still have been reachable.”
In any case, the double Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner was keen to draw positives from his afternoon as he faces into the rest of the Ardennes Classics. “I’ve shown that I can win, I can be up there, whether I actually do win or not. Either way, chapeau to Gilbert."