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Cunego a man for all seasons

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Cunego finishes his salute

Cunego finishes his salute (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Schleck opened up the sprint, but Cunego was lurking behind

Schleck opened up the sprint, but Cunego was lurking behind (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Alejandro Valverde was not making the classics a bigm goal, so his third place is a great result for the Spaniard

Alejandro Valverde was not making the classics a bigm goal, so his third place is a great result for the Spaniard (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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The start in Maastricht was witnessed by a lot of spectators

The start in Maastricht was witnessed by a lot of spectators (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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The break of the day with Timmer, Vandewalle and Krivtsov

The break of the day with Timmer, Vandewalle and Krivtsov (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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The broom wagon is being set up.

The broom wagon is being set up. (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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The sun was out and a lot of people showed up to see the riders at the start in Maastricht, The Netherlands.

The sun was out and a lot of people showed up to see the riders at the start in Maastricht, The Netherlands. (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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It's the first year that Michael Boogerd isn't lining up in Maastricht as a rider. He popped up together with his wife and kid.

It's the first year that Michael Boogerd isn't lining up in Maastricht as a rider. He popped up together with his wife and kid. (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Last year Piet Rooijakkers won the Herman Krott trophy for being the most competitive rider in the race; clearly it makes you popular.

Last year Piet Rooijakkers won the Herman Krott trophy for being the most competitive rider in the race; clearly it makes you popular. (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Johan Bruyneel talked with Roberto Amadio at the start of the Amstel Gold Race 2008.

Johan Bruyneel talked with Roberto Amadio at the start of the Amstel Gold Race 2008. (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Cédric Vasseur with family in Maastricht. The Frenchman is now president of the CPA, an organisation that represents the riders at the UCI.

Cédric Vasseur with family in Maastricht. The Frenchman is now president of the CPA, an organisation that represents the riders at the UCI. (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Philippe Gilbert is the Belgian favourite in the Amstel Gold Race.

Philippe Gilbert is the Belgian favourite in the Amstel Gold Race. (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Magnus Backstedt had bad luck in Paris-Roubaix. His wheels were broken on three spots.

Magnus Backstedt had bad luck in Paris-Roubaix. His wheels were broken on three spots. (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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Kim Kirchen is one of the favourites for the win in the Amstel Gold Race.

Kim Kirchen is one of the favourites for the win in the Amstel Gold Race. (Image credit: Brecht Decaluwé/Cyclingnews.com)
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There was a large peloton in the final kilometres which was only broken up in the last 15km.

There was a large peloton in the final kilometres which was only broken up in the last 15km. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Schleck opened up the sprint and gapped off the likes of Rebellin, but Cunego made it to his wheel.

Schleck opened up the sprint and gapped off the likes of Rebellin, but Cunego made it to his wheel. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Cunego closed the gap as Schleck faded and began to come past.

Cunego closed the gap as Schleck faded and began to come past. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre) takes his first Spring Classic.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) takes his first Spring Classic. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Cunego finishes his salute and takes a breath.

Cunego finishes his salute and takes a breath. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Magnus Backstedt (Slipstream Chipotle - H30) is the Swedish Champion.

Magnus Backstedt (Slipstream Chipotle - H30) is the Swedish Champion. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) had a good spring campaign but is starting to get tired.

Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) had a good spring campaign but is starting to get tired. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre) won the Klasika Primavera recently and is going well.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) won the Klasika Primavera recently and is going well. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Maarten Den Bakker (Skil-Shimano) finished second in 1998.

Maarten Den Bakker (Skil-Shimano) finished second in 1998. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Euskaltel wasn't expected to find the hills long enough for their taste.

Euskaltel wasn't expected to find the hills long enough for their taste. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) just before the start and showing some confidence.

Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) just before the start and showing some confidence. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) wanted to deliver a home victory for his Dutch team.

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) wanted to deliver a home victory for his Dutch team. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) is ever aggressive and the finish suits his style.

Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) is ever aggressive and the finish suits his style. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Kim Kirchen (High Road) was also seen as one of the riders with a chance to win today.

Kim Kirchen (High Road) was also seen as one of the riders with a chance to win today. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Andreas Klier and Gerald Ciolek (r) were not considered to be there in the final, although Klier may figure in a break.

Andreas Klier and Gerald Ciolek (r) were not considered to be there in the final, although Klier may figure in a break. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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The start in Maastricht was witnessed by a ton of fans.

The start in Maastricht was witnessed by a ton of fans. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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The weather cooperated and the riders' presentation was huge success with the locals.

The weather cooperated and the riders' presentation was huge success with the locals. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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David Millar (Slipstream Chipotle - H30) before the start in his national champion outfit.

David Millar (Slipstream Chipotle - H30) before the start in his national champion outfit. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Francis Mourey (Française des Jeux) takes a drink.

Francis Mourey (Française des Jeux) takes a drink. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) at the pre-race interview.

Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) at the pre-race interview. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Fränk Schleck with his CSC colleagues on the podium.

Fränk Schleck with his CSC colleagues on the podium. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Ronny Scholz (r) and Schumi before the start.

Ronny Scholz (r) and Schumi before the start. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Stefan Schumacher right after the start and trying to get in position to defend his title.

Stefan Schumacher right after the start and trying to get in position to defend his title. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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The start in Maastricht where the riders could relax for the last time.

The start in Maastricht where the riders could relax for the last time. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) rides up to the start.

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) rides up to the start. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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A smiling Erik Zabel (Team Milram) answers questions on the sign-in podium.

A smiling Erik Zabel (Team Milram) answers questions on the sign-in podium. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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The peloton at the Bergseweg.

The peloton at the Bergseweg. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Slipstream was attentive as the peloton was 51 kilometres into the race.

Slipstream was attentive as the peloton was 51 kilometres into the race. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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The lead group with Timmer, Krivtsov and Vandewalle.

The lead group with Timmer, Krivtsov and Vandewalle. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Shake-hands between champs as 2006 winner Schleck congratulates 2008 Amstel Gold first place rider Damiano Cunego.

Shake-hands between champs as 2006 winner Schleck congratulates 2008 Amstel Gold first place rider Damiano Cunego. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Cunego was thrilled at the finish.

Cunego was thrilled at the finish. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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The Italian had a good week in the Basque Country.

The Italian had a good week in the Basque Country. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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But this win was even better with the podium ladies, the flowers and the Amstel beer later.

But this win was even better with the podium ladies, the flowers and the Amstel beer later. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Oscar Freire could not deliver the hoped win for Rabobank and finished 19th.

Oscar Freire could not deliver the hoped win for Rabobank and finished 19th. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Ivanov started the decisive attack but couldn't hang on for the win.

Ivanov started the decisive attack but couldn't hang on for the win. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Christian Pfannberger (Barloworld) did a superb ride but didn't have the legs to follow the top guns; the Barloworld rider got sixth.

Christian Pfannberger (Barloworld) did a superb ride but didn't have the legs to follow the top guns; the Barloworld rider got sixth. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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The podium with Schleck, Cunego and Valverde from left to right.

The podium with Schleck, Cunego and Valverde from left to right. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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The new ProTour leader. Cunego took over from André Greipel (High Road).

The new ProTour leader. Cunego took over from André Greipel (High Road). (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Joaquim Rodriguez gave it all for Valverde in the end.

Joaquim Rodriguez gave it all for Valverde in the end. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Andy Schleck comes in and looks at the big screen to see how his brother did.

Andy Schleck comes in and looks at the big screen to see how his brother did. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Stefan Schumacher didn't have the legs today to repeat his win from last year.

Stefan Schumacher didn't have the legs today to repeat his win from last year. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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A lot of checking in the sprint as Cunego realises he will win, while Schleck understands he won't.

A lot of checking in the sprint as Cunego realises he will win, while Schleck understands he won't. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Cunego celebrates a great win.

Cunego celebrates a great win. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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The break of the day is led by Albert Timmer.

The break of the day is led by Albert Timmer. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Timmer won the PitRooyakkers trophy.

Timmer won the PitRooyakkers trophy. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Fabian Wegmann of Gerolsteiner comes in with his German champ outfit.

Fabian Wegmann of Gerolsteiner comes in with his German champ outfit. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Cunego crosses the line with arms raised and head high.

Cunego crosses the line with arms raised and head high. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Markus Zberg rode in support of the team, but Gerolsteiner couldn't win this time.

Markus Zberg rode in support of the team, but Gerolsteiner couldn't win this time. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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A dejected Rebellin who could not repeat his 2004 performance.

A dejected Rebellin who could not repeat his 2004 performance. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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The Cauberg was awaiting the arrival of the riders for the final showdown.

The Cauberg was awaiting the arrival of the riders for the final showdown. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Thomas Dekker rolls in a bit frustrated. He did well, but fifth wasn't the win the team had hoped for

Thomas Dekker rolls in a bit frustrated. He did well, but fifth wasn't the win the team had hoped for (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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A happy Cunego took over the ProTour lead.

A happy Cunego took over the ProTour lead. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Karsten Kroon gave it all for his team leader, Fränk Schleck.

Karsten Kroon gave it all for his team leader, Fränk Schleck. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)
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Paul Martens (Rabobank) drove the lead group before pulling out of the race.

Paul Martens (Rabobank) drove the lead group before pulling out of the race. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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The scenery in Holland's spring was amazing, but the riders had little time to enjoy it.

The scenery in Holland's spring was amazing, but the riders had little time to enjoy it. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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The peloton weaves its way through the course.

The peloton weaves its way through the course. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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The peloton rides three wide down some of the narrow sections of the route.

The peloton rides three wide down some of the narrow sections of the route. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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A Saunier Duval-Scott rider in the middle of a strung-out peloton.

A Saunier Duval-Scott rider in the middle of a strung-out peloton. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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An early escape rounds a corner on the Dutch race.

An early escape rounds a corner on the Dutch race. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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Dutch rider Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano) finished 126th.

Dutch rider Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano) finished 126th. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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Belgian Bert Scheirlinckx (Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner) pushed hard, but finished down in 133rd spot.

Belgian Bert Scheirlinckx (Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner) pushed hard, but finished down in 133rd spot. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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Floris Goesinnen (Skil-Shimano) came home in one of the later groups.

Floris Goesinnen (Skil-Shimano) came home in one of the later groups. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) wasn't on the pace today, but Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) was.

Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) wasn't on the pace today, but Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) was. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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Greg Van Avermaet (Silence - Lotto) finished nearly five and a half minutes back.

Greg Van Avermaet (Silence - Lotto) finished nearly five and a half minutes back. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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Oscar Freire Gomez (Rabobank) is followed by Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner).

Oscar Freire Gomez (Rabobank) is followed by Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner). (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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Dutch rider Joost Posthuma (Rabobank) went on to finish outside of the top 100.

Dutch rider Joost Posthuma (Rabobank) went on to finish outside of the top 100. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) rides along by himself.

Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) rides along by himself. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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Karsten Kroon (Team CSC) took ninth place in his home event.

Karsten Kroon (Team CSC) took ninth place in his home event. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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Dutch rider Karsten Kroon (Team CSC) rides around the outside of another rider.

Dutch rider Karsten Kroon (Team CSC) rides around the outside of another rider. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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Norway's Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC) finished way back in the pack.

Norway's Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC) finished way back in the pack. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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Maarten Den Bakker (Skil-Shimano) was nearly 10 minutes behind the leaders.

Maarten Den Bakker (Skil-Shimano) was nearly 10 minutes behind the leaders. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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Magnus Backstedt (Slipstream Chipotle Presented By H30) failed to make the finish.

Magnus Backstedt (Slipstream Chipotle Presented By H30) failed to make the finish. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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Nico Sijmens (Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner) fixed his bike but didn't see the end of the race.

Nico Sijmens (Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner) fixed his bike but didn't see the end of the race. (Image credit: DCP/Bert Geerts)
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The early escape of three riders on the Vrakelberg.

The early escape of three riders on the Vrakelberg. (Image credit: Erik Van Breugel)
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Kristof Vandewalle (Topsport Vlaanderen) rides in the early escape.

Kristof Vandewalle (Topsport Vlaanderen) rides in the early escape. (Image credit: Erik Van Breugel)
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Belgian Tom Stubbe (Française des Jeux) didn't make the finish.

Belgian Tom Stubbe (Française des Jeux) didn't make the finish. (Image credit: Erik Van Breugel)
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Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone) leads a group at the top of the Gulpenberg.

Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone) leads a group at the top of the Gulpenberg. (Image credit: Erik Van Breugel)
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Thomas Dekker (Rabobank) riding in the peloton at the top of Gulpenberg.

Thomas Dekker (Rabobank) riding in the peloton at the top of Gulpenberg. (Image credit: Erik Van Breugel)
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Robert Gesink (Rabobank) jumped just after the break was caught.

Robert Gesink (Rabobank) jumped just after the break was caught. (Image credit: Erik Van Breugel)
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Australian National Champion Matthew Lloyd (Silence-Lotto) finished in 25th spot.

Australian National Champion Matthew Lloyd (Silence-Lotto) finished in 25th spot. (Image credit: Erik Van Breugel)
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Belgian Jelle Vanendert (Française des Jeux) rode in to 38th spot.

Belgian Jelle Vanendert (Française des Jeux) rode in to 38th spot. (Image credit: Erik Van Breugel)
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The lead group after the Keutenberg climb.

The lead group after the Keutenberg climb. (Image credit: Erik Van Breugel)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Frank Schleck (Team CSC) looking very relaxed on their way to fight for victory.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Frank Schleck (Team CSC) looking very relaxed on their way to fight for victory. (Image credit: Erik Van Breugel)
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Spectators watched from wherever they could find a spot.

Spectators watched from wherever they could find a spot. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The last five men to contest for victory on the Cauberg. Schleck and his tongue tried hard to shake Cunego.

The last five men to contest for victory on the Cauberg. Schleck and his tongue tried hard to shake Cunego. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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But Cunego prevailed and crossed the Amstel Bier marking ahead of the others.

But Cunego prevailed and crossed the Amstel Bier marking ahead of the others. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Rebellin (r) grits his teeth as Valverde doesn't want to look up and Dekker hangs on.

Rebellin (r) grits his teeth as Valverde doesn't want to look up and Dekker hangs on. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Amstel has lots of curves but the nice weather made it less dangerous.

Amstel has lots of curves but the nice weather made it less dangerous. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The peloton strung out single-file through the Dutch country side.

The peloton strung out single-file through the Dutch country side. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Cunego was all smiles and it probably hadn't completely sunk in yet, right after the finish.

Cunego was all smiles and it probably hadn't completely sunk in yet, right after the finish. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The amount of people on the roadside was unbelievable.

The amount of people on the roadside was unbelievable. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The peloton was as tight as the spectators in the early part of the race.

The peloton was as tight as the spectators in the early part of the race. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Cunego separates himself from Schleck with his brilliant sprint.

Cunego separates himself from Schleck with his brilliant sprint. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Davide Rebellin tried to attack before the Cauberg, but the others wouldn't let him get away.

Davide Rebellin tried to attack before the Cauberg, but the others wouldn't let him get away. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The decisive moment as Kroon had pulled off (far left, background) and Schleck took over – with Cunego being attentive.

The decisive moment as Kroon had pulled off (far left, background) and Schleck took over – with Cunego being attentive. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The move that started it when Astana's Ivanov (l) went and Barloworld's Pfannberger caught up; but the others are already closing in.

The move that started it when Astana's Ivanov (l) went and Barloworld's Pfannberger caught up; but the others are already closing in. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

43rd Amstel Gold Race - PT

Netherlands, April 20, 2008

ProTour standings

Il piccolo principe reigns on the Cauberg

Italian Damiano Cunego from Cerro Veronese has won the 43rd edition of the Amstel Gold Race in a nine-man sprint towards the top of the famous Cauberg lump near Valkenburg, The Netherlands. The 26 year-old from the Lampre-Fondital team held off Fränk Schleck and Alejandro Valverde in his first participation in the Amstel Gold Race and went on to claim his first-ever victory in a Spring Classic. Last year's winner Stefan Schumacher couldn't live up to the expectations and finished in a second group that finished 45" behind the light-weighted Italian.

"I was very nervous and impressed," Cunego reacted after his win. "I have never ridden this race and tried to stay cool and follow the others. It's a surprise for me to win here, because I considered it as a test for the upcoming races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which I know much better. There are two important races left where I want to excel, but for sure tonight I'll go to bed satisfied," Cunego continued. "There were a lot of attacks and counterattacks during the finale and sometimes I bridged up the gaps myself. I realized it could make me tired, but I knew it was even harder to follow me," the winner of the Giro d'Italia 2004 said, pointing out that he was feeling exceptionally strong.

The 2008 edition of the most important Dutch cycling race was marked by multiple attacks, which were always quickly neutralized by the teams from the favourites. It was a nervous finale and the climbs of the Eyserbosweg and the Keutenberg didn't bring the expected fireworks, although there was an – unsuccessful – effort from Kim Kirchen and Johan Vansummeren. A little later Sergey Ivanov and Christian Pfannberger anticipated on attacks from the big guns by sneaking away between the Eyserbosweg and the Fromberg, with 17 kilometres to go. These two riders were joined by a group of seven riders including multiple pre-race favourites Fränk Schleck, Davide Rebellin, Damiano Cunego, Karsten Kroon and Thomas Dekker. This decisive breakaway approached the Cauberg with an advantage of 30" on a big group, including last year's winner Stefan Schumacher.

Spanish champion Joaquím Rodríguez Oliver (Caisse d'Epargne) neutralized late attacks from Kroon and Dekker and then led the leaders during the first part of the climb, all in support for his fast team leader Alejandro Valverde. "I talked to Valverde in the final kilometres, and he was going well and had good legs – I wanted to work for him," the Spaniard explained after the race.

When Fränk Schleck jumped away with 500 metres to go, right on the steepest part of the Cauberg, the Spanish champion was dropped, together with Pfannberger, Ivanov and Kroon, who also did some pulling on the final climb for his CSC team leader. The move of the Luxemburger was marked closely by Cunego, followed by Rebellin, Valverde and local favourite Thomas Dekker of Rabobank. A little later Schleck accelerated again and Rebellin had to let go of Cunego's wheel, creating a gap that had to be closed by Valverde. The latter didn't have the power left to come back and by then Dekker was dropped as well. The sprint was almost ruined as the sprinters almost headed into the deviation for the cars, but luckily nobody was hampered by the confusion. With about one hundred metres to go Cunego jumped out of Schleck's wheel and the feathery Italian speeded to his first win in the Amstel Gold Race.

Fränk Schleck - winner in 2006 – jumped away halfway the ultimate ascent of the Cauberg, but his move was neutralized by the little prince, Damiano Cunego. "The only chance for me to win, was trying to jump away before the sprint. I didn't want to do it, but in the radio Bjarne Riis shouted that I had to do it. It almost worked out, but Damiano knew he had to stay on my wheel. He did everything right," Schleck explained about the chosen tactics in the uphill sprint in Valkenburg.

There were a lot of fast legs in the group that fought for the victory and it was surprising to see that Alejandro Valverde Belmonte couldn't quite match the speed from Cunego and Schleck. Nevertheless, the Spaniard was happy with his performance. "The Spring Classics aren't a real objective for me this year," said Valverde, who wants to perform well in the Tour de France in July. "I didn't have anything left in the tank for the sprint. Clearly, Cunego is the well-deserved winner; he was the strongest man in the race, together with Schleck," Valverde added. Valverde also said: "I'm happy with third place as it is my best ever result in this race."

The runner-up from last year, Davide Rebellin couldn't keep up with the acceleration from Schleck and Cunego, and the 36 year-old had to settle for fourth place this year. "I knew that I could make the difference on the Cauberg. I was going well, but I was not super. It was up to Caisse to do the pulling, and then in the finale I was just hoping to ride on the wheel of a sprinter," said Rebellin to Cyclingnews. Too bad for the winner of this race back in 2004 that he couldn't hold on to the wheel of that sprinter, because it was the winner's wheel. The experienced Italian agreed that he wasn't good enough for the win in the end. "Cunego went really strong today and so he deserved this win," Rebellin concluded.

The man who started the winning break was Astana's Serguei Ivanov. But he paid for his efforts, when he jumped clear and was first joined by Pfannberger and then the others. "I had some cramps in the finale, and I couldn't pull the pedals like it should be on the climbs. That's why I tried to get away. I was in a very good position with Pfannberger but I was without a chance in the sprint," said the 33 year-old Russian. "I gave my best and I'm happy with my performance. I'm in top condition, but it's too bad there are no races left for me anymore," Ivanov reminded us about the non-selection from Team Astana for Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Today's protagonists who missed out for the win receive another chance on Wednesday with the Flèche Wallonne, and next week there's the Liège-Bastogne-Liège that concludes the Spring Classics season.

How it unfolded

The race started in Maastricht at 10:21am local time. 184 racers rolled across the start line. Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott) with a fever and Sebastian Langeveld (Rabobank) with ongoing knee problems did not start the race.

The break of the day formed around kilometre 35: Kristof Vandewalle (Topsport Vlaanderen), Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano) and Yuriy Krivtsov (AG2R La Mondiale) were the lucky ones who jumped at the right moment. The peloton wasn't too worried about their escape, and the trio's lead quickly increased to a maximum of 12'43 at the Wolfsberg (the seventh of the 31 climbs to be mastered, some 86 Kilometres after the start).

However, after 100 kilometres raced, the peloton picked up the pace ever so slightly and the gap slowly started to shrink. Another 100 clicks later, with 54 kilometres to go, the breakaway's lead was down to 2'10. On the Wolfsberg (42 kilometres to go), as the charging bunch almost came within sight of the break, Niki Terpstra (Milram) bridged up to it and dragged the fatigued men along to the next hill, the Loorberg, where they finally got caught.

It was thus a race wide open in the final 40 kilometres, and the attacks didn't cease for some time before the final winning move could eventually distance itself.

First, it was young Dutch climbing sensation Robert Gesink (Rabobank) who jumped just after the break was caught, taking with him Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux), Kim Kirchen (High Road), Igor Astarloa (Team Milram) and Mario Aerts (Silence-Lotto). But those five were judged too dangerous and reeled back in before they could achieve a real gap.

Then, with 27 kilometres to the line, Carlo Scognamiglio (Barloworld) tried his luck, but in vain as the bunch was driven by Gerolsteiner, Rabobank, Lampre and Cofidis. Another Italian, Dario Cataldo (Liquigas) jumped with 23 kilometres to go, but also couldn't get away significantly and was caught on the Kruisberg.

The next attack came on the Eyserbosweg, some 18 kilometres before the finish. Kim Kirchen tried again, joined by Lotto's Johan Vansummeren, but the duo only made it to the descent of that climb. By that time, the peloton had significantly shrunk to only about 30 riders, and decision time drew near.

Astana's Serguei Ivanov made another attempt to distance the field with 17 kilometres to go, joined by Christian Pfannberger (Barloworld). The duo even managed a gap of 16 seconds, but it didn't last. However, both riders were still in contention even when the group of favourites caught them after the next-to-last climb, the Keutenberg, which made the peloton fall apart completely.

Rebellin, Cunego and Schleck were the first riders to bridge up to Ivanov and Pfannberger, as a lead group of nine riders emerged: Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Serguei Ivanov (Astana), Joachim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Thomas Dekker (Rabobank), Karsten Kroon and Fränk Schleck (CSC), Damiano Cunego (Lampre) as well as Christian Pfannberger (Barloworld).

With five kilometres left before the final ascent, the Cauberg, this group of nine, out of which Rebellin temporarily attacked, had some 20 seconds over a chase group, which included: Stefan Schumacher and Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R), Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues), Simon Gerrans (Crédit Agricole), Benoît Vaugrenard (FDJ), Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), Oscar Freire, Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Johan Vansummeren (Lotto) and Kim Kirchen (High Road).

This situation was unchanged as the lead group tackled the last kilometre. On the famous Cauberg leading up to the finish line, Rodriguez led Cunego and Valverde, while Pfannberger was at the back. Then, Kroon pulled hard for Schleck, who was behind Cunego. As Kroon pulled off, the Italian pushed on, with Schleck and Valverde in his wheel. But the Luxemburger ran out of juice as Cunego opened a gap. Valverde, too, was a little short to show his otherwise excellent sprinting abilities. Rebellin and Dekker finished fourth and fifth respectively.

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