For a rider who has been defeated on the Cauberg for the fifth time in his career - once in the World Championships in 2012 and now for the fourth time in the Amstel Gold Race - Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) nonetheless was in an decidedly upbeat mood after the race.
The Spanish veteran considers that Amstel has nonetheless shown that he has arrived at the Ardennes Week in top form. After taking second place behind Etixx-Quick Step’s Michal Kwiatkowski, he is well on track for Fleche Wallonne, where he is defending champion and Liege-Bastogne-Liege - and in a team which will be further boosted by the participation of Nairo Quintana in the two Belgian Classics.
“We were always close to the front, watching what we could do and with that finish a little further after the Cauberg than it used to be, it was always going to be a very open race,” Valverde told Cyclingnews as he picked his way through the media tent at the finish.
“I’m happy with how I did the sprint, I was quite a long way ahead, but the headwind caused me a few problems and it was difficult to stay up there.” After following Lars Petter Nordhaug as the Norwegian opened up the sprint close to the barriers and then passing the Sky rider, as Valverde veered across the finale from right to left, too, Kwiatkowski’s steadier, straighter acceleration put the Pole clear of the Spaniard.
“It was the closest I’ve got to winning Amstel, and the team was really good at keeping things under control, and I’m feeling the best I ever have done in this Ardennes week, too. I’m pleased,” Valverde said afterwards.
Of the three Classics, Valverde believes that Amstel is the least favourable for him. “The Ardennes race which suits me the best is Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and even more so now they’ve brought back the [Cote du] Roche aux Faucons [climb], that’s going be much better for me, just like la Fleche Wallonne with that new extra ascent is a much better finish for me too.”
Reviewing the race in the press conference, Valverde recognised that “the last part was very fast, BMC and Movistar were keeping the race under control, when Gilbert [and Michael Matthews] went for it, I was a bit blocked behind. It was difficult to get across, but even so I got second in the sprint.”
Was it frustrating never to win, one Flemish journalist asked him pointblank. “It’s clear that winning is very difficult, but being up there is also good and I found myself in good shape. I’m happy with second.”
Asked about a car driven by a member of the public which briefly got on the route with some 30 kilometres to go, Valverde said he had seen the vehicle “coming in the opposite direction, and it was a bit of a scare. I don’t think anybody fell off, so thank goodness nothing has happened, but these issues need resolving.”
Beaten by Kwiatkowski in the World Championships last September, where Valverde had to settle for bronze, the Spaniard recognised that “a new generation of riders, such as John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) in Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix, has arrived. But us older ones can still give them a run for their money.”
Comparing his 2015 runner’s up position with his second place from 2013 when Roman Kreuziger broke out of the peloton prior to Valverde leading home the rest of the bunch, Valverde smiled and said “at the end of the day, they’re the same result, but with a finish like this, nearly two kilometres from the summit, I did the best I could. Kwiatkowski has beaten me, but second’s still very good.”