Amstel Gold: the first of the Ardennes Classics!
Welcome to the Amstel Gold Race! The cobbled classics are over, and now we move to the climbing classics. Join us as we accompany the peloton on their jaunt through the Netherlands today.
Things will be kicking off any minute now in Maastricht.
The weather forecast for today is supposed to be 21° C and sunshine -- but just across the border here in Germany, it is still coolish and overcast.
This is the 48th edition of the race and will cover 251 kilometers, and will feature our old friend, the Cauberg. In fact, the finish here ought to look quite familiar, as it is the same as last year's World championships.
The race was supposed to have started two minutes ago, but we are still awaiting confirmation.
They have indeed taken off!
Enrico Gasparotto of Astana will wear number one today, but does anyone really expect to see him atop the podium again? We think most people will be looking for last year's third-place finisher, Peter Sagan, or World champion Philippe Gilbert.
Information on the race is a bit sparse at the moment -- but we assume that means that nothing is really happening yet.
Just a reminder, here is the top ten from last year:
1 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Pro Team Astana 6:32:35
2 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team
3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:02
4 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Katusha Team
5 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar
6 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
7 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
8 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Garmin-Barracuda 0:00:04
9 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
10 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
Of those top ten, only Freire and Sanchez are not racing today.
Do we have our first attack? We hear that Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp) now has 15 seconds on the field!
For an historical look back, here are the winners of the last ten years:
2012 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana
2011 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
2010 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
2009 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha
2008 Damiano Cunego (Ita)
2007 Stefan Schumacher (Ger)
2006 Fränk Schleck (Lux)
2005 Danilo Di Luca (Ita)
2004 Davide Rebellin (Ita)
2003 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz)
From these ten riders, only Gasparotto, Gilbert and Cunego are riding here today.
Our Australian Editor has moved to the Benelux for the Spring season. You can read Jane Aubrey's excellent race preview here.
As Jane tells us, there are two major course changes. The first is that the finish line is 1.8km beyond the top of the Cauberg, as it was in the Worlds. “The other change from race organisers includes a finishing circuit including the Geulhemmerberg before the peloton heads towards Maastricht, then an ascent of the Bemerlerberg and the last burn up the Cauberg. The change to the finish means that the parcours cover 33 climbs in 2013, up from the 31 of the last few years. The race should also become far more selective and more difficult.”
Remember that sunshine we talked about earlier? We are still waiting on it. In fact, it is actually raining at the moment....
Speaking of the last ten years at the race, Cyclingnews has put together a brief summary of those races, as well as photos in this Gallery. Take a look back into time!
Things seem finally to be happening. The official race twitter says we have five leaders, who are 1.25 ahead of two chasers, with the peloton at 2.40.
No names, unfortunately.
And we now hear that our five anonymous leaders have a 4.45 gap!
It looks like this is our lead group: De Troyer, Pliuschin, Astarloza, Vanoverberghe and Vansummeren.
That would be: Tim De Troyer (Accent Jobs-Wanty), Alexandre Pliuschin (IAM), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Arthur Van Overberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp)
They are being chased by Jelle Vanendert (Lotto) und Klaas Sys (Crelan-Euphony).
205km remaining from 251km
So to sum it all up, we have five in front, chased by two at 1:25, with the peloton at 4:45. And we have raced about 45km so far.
No, it is not Vanendert chasing, but Nicolas Vogondy of Accent Jobs.
195km remaining from 251km
These guys are moving! The gap is now up to eight minutes.
BMC's Greg Van Avermaet also had some words for us today: “I think I’m really strong for the whole classics, almost from Nieuwsbald until now. I’m happy with my condition but the few last races are going to be hard for me because I’m a little bit tired now. We’ll see how the condition is and I hope to have a good race.
Having Gilbert in the team will most likely work in his favour heading into the last lap. “I think so. I was missing some support in the finals of the other races. I think it’s nice to be in the final with two guys, one with the world champion jersey. It’s easier to race when everybody’s looking to him and maybe that will give me my chance.”
192km remaining from 251km
The head group has crossed over the finish line for the first time. The two chasers are now only one minute down, but the peloton is a full 10 minutes back.
The two chasers are now only 20 seconds behind the leaders, so we should shortly have a lead group of seven.
190km remaining from 251km
The peloton crossed the finish line (for the first but not last time) exactly 10:43 after the break group. And the two chasers have indeed caught up, so we do have a septet in front.
186km remaining from 251km
The field must have finally realized that nearly 11 minutes is really more than they are comfortable with. The gap has fallen about half a minute, to 10:05.
Jay McCarthy is a neo pro on Saxo-Tinkoff, and having excelled on this terrain as an under 23, it will be interesting to see how he goes today in a class field. How is his neo pro year going? “It’s going really well. I’ve finally settled in with the team.
“I’m pretty excited to do this race and I have been for a while now. I hope it’s going to be good.
We’ve got four or five guys that can hopefully be there at the end so. For me it makes sense to see how I feel and hopefully I can help out as much as I can.
After this, he will “head home and then get ready for Turkey.”
Who is doing most of the lead work in the chasing peloton? No surprise there. Cannondale, who wants to put Sagan atop the podium, and homeland team Blanco, who wants to put Mollema on the stairs.
Blanco DS Erik Dekker shared with us his thoughts on the changes to the course - “It could be a great move of Leo. With three really hard climbs in the last 20km, the best riders are in the front and if one or two gets away, it’s also one of the best riders. Now you have a possibility that a bigger group is coming and then you still have 80km to go for a race. Guys coming back after the Keutenberg, they already know that they’re not going to win. A lot of teams or riders will try to get away. I’m sure of that.
“I really don’t know what the change of the parcours does. It’s 20km longer, let’s say that. The really steep climbs are 20km earlier and I’m not sure how the peloton will react on that. It will change it a little bit I think because it’s still 40km to go or something on big wide roads and a headwind on top of the Keutenberg and the Cauberg – it could be a bigger group. I think there is a good possibility that there will be a break in the last 20km which maybe can go to the end.”
Dekker also had his thoughts on top favourite Peter Sagan. “Obviously Sagan is outstanding but I wonder if he does the local lap of 18km by himself in front of the group whether he’d still win? (laughs) I cannot imagine that. He cannot control the race by himself – but it looks like it. It depends a little bit on his team. When there are two or three teammates passing the Cauberg the second last time then we’re in trouble.”
The rain has apparently stopped, and the temperature is shooting up to 18°C. That feels like summer heat after the long cold European winter.
We have had a crash back in the field, involving Paul Martens (Blanco), Brian Blugac (Lotto-Belisol) and Vasil Kiryienka (Sky), but happily all are back up and going again.
170km remaining from 251km
Meanwhile the gap has crept back up to nearly 11 minutes.
As we said, Jane Aubrey is at the race for us, and she just gave us this weather report and forecast: "Sitting on about 18 degrees here right now. blustery winds at the finish. While overcast, the rain should hold off, and as the race nears its conclusion, the temps will be closer to 21°C."
I have brought you this far through the race, and am now ready to turn things over to Steve Farrand.
The new route for this race includes 34 classified climbs, with lots more along the roller coaster route.
The breakaway has just gone over the Wolfsberg climb., number 8 of 34. There's still a long way to go!
The blustery wind and fighting for position is causing more crashes. This time Tosh van der Sande and Lotto Belisol teammate Brian Bulgaç took a tumble. Both seem okay and back in the race.
Peter Sagan's Cannondale team are leading the controlled chase of the breakaway.
Sagan is the bookmaker's favourite and so bears the responsibility for chasing the break.
Team NetApp-Endura is taking on Amstel for the first time.
“In light of our new obligations, we have clearly toughened up for the classics. If we look at our latest races, it has already been worth it. We are in a considerably better position with this race and the guys’ form is improving all the time. We hardly dare hope for a victory, but we are in a position to play a deciding role in the race,” said a confident Jens Heppner.
Heppner himself finished on the podium in this race – 20 years ago. Why was it his favourite race? “For me it was great that the race isn’t completely flat, but always goes up and down. I handled that well. The short, steep climbs are just my thing. Then there’s also the fact that I have lived here for many years. The Amstel is basically like my home race. I know every stone and every hole along the way.”
151km remaining from 251km
After 100km of racing, the gap between the break and the peloton, remains at 11 minutes.
Asked about the most technical and dangerous parts of the course, Johnny Weltz (Garmin-Sharp sports director) had some warning words about the descent off the Cauberg after the finishing straight, the climb and descent which the riders tackle three times with the fourth ascent just two kilometres after the summit.
“It’s a very fast drop down, and you’re going through a built up area, so that is very very difficult. Also there’s some straight away sections after that with a left turn over a bridge and it gets very narrow and technical again.” As for the race itself, Weltz confirmed that Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) will be
one of the key contenders for his team in Amstel. “He climbs extremely well, he’s got a good sprint and after winning Catalunya his morale is really good and that can be what makes the difference. But we’ve got a team that make the race from beginning to end, and that counts too. Either way, we can’t all be sitting there waiting for [Peter] Sagan (Cannondale) and the final sprint.”
Not surprisingly, Dutch riders have won this race more often than any other nationality. They have 17 wins, with Belgium at 11, Italy 6, Switzerland and Germany 3 each, France 2, and Denmark, Australia, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg and Russia one each.
Philippe Gilbert has won this race twice, as have three other riders (Eddy Merckx, Gerrie Knettemann, and Rolf Jarmann). Only one rider has won it more times: Dutchman Jan Raas, who won it five times, in 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1982.
125km remaining from 251km
We're halfway into the race now, with the riders tackling the Eperheide climb, number 15 of 34.
The race speed has been constant but not super fast so far, with an average speed of 39.3km/h.
112km remaining from 251km
The peloton has awoken and slowly begun to reel in the breakaway. The gap is falling towards 10 minutes.
Susan back in the driver's seat! Looks like not much happened while I was gone.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale): Third in 2012 and 98th in 2011, Peter Sagan starts the race as the leading favourite and he was all but submerged in tv cameras and radio stations wanting his final impressions prior to starting the Amstel Gold, where he hopes to take the 48th win of his career and ninth of 2013.
“I’m in good form, I had a good series of results before Amstel last year too, and my third place left me with a bad taste in my mouth, so we will have to see whether I can get up there and get the win itself,” Sagan said.
“Looking at the rivals, it’s hard to say who can achieve what. But it’s good to start today with so many top results already achieved. Amstel Gold Race is another important objective for me though and the changes in the finale make it easier for everybody to attack. Amstel is much more open than the cobbled Classics, too and you have to be really alert. There are no resting spaces.”
Peter Velits of Omega Pharma-QuickStep has crashed, but he is ok and quickly back in the peloton.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC) drew one of the biggest cheers at the Grote Markt square in Maastricht this morning as he stood in the line-up for the team presentation with his BMC team-mates, wearing the rainbow jersey he had won at the same finish as Amstel Gold last September.
“It’s difficult to name a rival, there are so many different options,” the former double Amstel winner told reporters after coming off the podium, “but I know it will be a very hard race, and I have to focus on what I can do, rather than doing anybody else’s race. The best thing is I know I can count on a strong team to support me, and we have several cards to play, not just me. This whole week is important for me, but I’ve had a good result Wednesday so that will boost my morale.”
Cannondale and Blanco continue to lead the peloton.
Rigoberto Uran (Sky ProCycling) knows the route from the World’s circuit and says that it “changes things enormously that they’ve added in that extra part after the summit. It was already hard, and this will make it even more difficult. It’s going to be a real war.”
Prominent as one of Sky’s top mountain climbers in Tirreno and Catalunya, Uran took a short break afterwards “and I’ve yet to really find out how good my condition is coming back from that. So I’ll be seeing how good I am for the rest of the Ardennes
week as well.”
As his director sportif Nicolas Portal told Cyclingnews yesterday, Uran confirmed that he, Sergio Henao, Vasil Kiryenka and Edvald Boasson Hagen will be Sky’s four key names in today’s race.
100km remaining from 251km
100km still to go , and the gap is at exactly 10 minutes.
A bronze medallist in the World’s circuit at Valkenberg last year, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is feeling particularly motivated because Amstel is the one Ardennes Classic he has yet to win.
“I’ve got good memories of this finish here, and I’m hoping I’ll have the same kind of luck here again this afternoon,” he told Cyclingnews at the start. “The circuit is a little bit harder than in the World’s, particularly because it comes after so many climbs early on, but I know how to tackle it, that’s for sure.”
Of the three, Valverde says that Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the one which suits him the best. At Amstel he finished 22nd last year and his best result was third in 2008. He has won the Amstel Curacao end-of-season race, in 2006, but that isn’t quite the same thing...
A big crash took down about 15 riders in the peloton, including Gilbert and Blanco's Laruens Ten Dam. Gilbert had to wait a long time for a new bike.
Much of the peloton was forced to do a bit of 'cross riding, heading into the nearby field to get around the backup.
91km remaining from 251km
The gap is now 9:33. The peloton has splittered because of the crash. This is not good. Many riders all ove the place, trying to catch up, many team cars frantically trying to get to their riders, and all that on very narrow lanes. Not a good combination.
We understand that Ten Dam is still down, and at this point we would assume he is not going to be getting back on his bike today.
Andy Schleck is another of those who was caught up in or by the crash, and is working his way back up.
Gilbert and Schleck are in fact fighting together to move back up to the peloton.
The Gilbert group is now behind the Orica-GreenEdge car, but they have a way to go.
Blanco now at the head of the peloton, and we see only one Cannondale. Did Sagan get caught, as well?
The leaders hit the finish line once again, and with 85km to go, they have a gap of 8:13.
Lars Boom is the Blanco rider who is forcing the pace of the front group, about 20-25 riders.
The Gilbert group has caught up with another large group, but we are not sure if that is the first chase group or not.
The gap continues to plumment, and the first chase group is at 7:25, with the peloton, including Gilbert and Schleck, at 7:55.
BMC is leading the peloton, which looks rather large again.
We don't have any official word on any injuries from the crash, but are hearing that at least one rider has been taken to hospital. We prefer to wait for official word on things like that.
That rider who has gone to hospital is Thomas Voeckler of Europcar. We hope he is not seriously injured.
We also hear that Laurens Ten Dam was able to get back on his bike and continue.
The peloton looks to have caught the first chasing group. More or less at any rate. How will this affect the gap?
And that is the cue for Cannondal to move back up to the front of things. They aren't willing to let the lead group stay away, that's for sure.
Bram Tankink of Blanco drops back to the team car to pick up some bidons and gels.
It has finally turned into a beautiful, sunny spring day. At last!
77km remaining from 251km
The gap has dropped to 7:25, and the peloton is really streaking along at high speed.
The peloton goes through the food zone, and stocks up for the hard kms to come.
Veteran Movistar rider and breakaway specialist Pablo Lastras, who has been riding the Ardennes Classics for over a decade now, believes that the change in the route “gives greater chances to the outsiders. There could be all kinds of strategic
developments you wouldn’t expect, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be one of the big names who gets the win for sure - Sagan, Rodriguez, Mollema or Valverde.”
“Adding two kilometres in makes for a much more open race. It’s the kind of innovation that cycling needs to evolve and make it more interesting.”
He doesn’t agree that Amstel serves as a starting point for the remainder of the Ardennes Classics. “Winning a race like Amstel is a huge victory in itself. I think today is like a World Championships, Fleche Wallone another, and Liege another. We won’t be holding anything back.” His own role will be “shadowing Alejandro, together with Imanol [Erviti] and as I know the route, keeping close to the front for the team.”
70km remaining from 251km
With 70 km to go, the gap has fallen to 6:30. That is the first positive sign that the group will probably be caught.
The gap comes down, and now is 5:28, as Vansummeren leads the break group.
Bauke Mollema will be leading Team Blanco this year, and hoping to improve on his tenth place finish. Team DS Erik Dekker told Cyclingnews that he is not real sure how things will go. “The guys are fit, they are full of morale, of course - the sunny weather and the home country - but it looks a lot better than last week. It's a different race of course. We had also two really sick guys but they are fit now again. But we are looking forward to tomorrow and are curious as to how it turns out."
Sky's Kiryienka must have been involved in that crash, as his arm is fully smeared with blood.
65km remaining from 251km
With 65 km to go, the gap has dropped to under five minutes, to 4:52. And the chase work is being led by Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Movistar.
Looks like Boom has done his work for the day, as he falls off the back of the field. He held the pace up high for a long time.
Boom is wearing an unusual and to us, rather unattractive white helmet. It is apparently very aero, though.
Just a reminder, this is our break group: Tim De Troyer (Accent Jobs-Wanty), Alexandre Pliuschin (IAM), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Arthur Van Overberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen), Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp), Klaas Sys (Crelan-Euphony) and Nicolas Vogondy (Accent Jobs-Wanty).
Team Sky may not have made much of an impression so far in the Classics, but they hope to change that today. In fact, they have a three-pronged attack, with Edvald Boasson Hagen, Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao.
Susan signing off, and handing things back to Steve, who will bring you in to the finish.
As the speed picks up, riders are diving around road furniture to try and move up. Hey! Lets be careful out there!
Up front Van Summeren, Astarloza and Pliuschin have opened a gap on the other riders in the break.
While Katusha lead the chasing behind.
53km remaining from 251km
The trio up front are now going hard, as the gap falls to 3:20.
Orica-GreenEdge is now on the front. The boys from down under are riding for Simon Gerrans. He's on form and showed at the recent Vuelta al Pais Vasco.
The Ardennes Classics are one of the year's major goals for Simon Gerrans of Orica-GreenEdge. He already has three wins on the season, and he is ready to rock-and-roll today.
The next climb is the Gulpenerberg, climb number 26 of the day.
Yet again, the riders are all over the road, jumping on the bike paths and then flicking back into the peloton as they fight for position before the climb.
Up front Astarloza is going clear alone. That will surely be a blow for the chances of the break to stay away much longer.
Purito is down and hurting.
He is limping and in pain. His race could be over.
Rodriguez is back on his bike but he's holding his left knee. His race is surely over.
Micheal Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) was also caught up in the crash but seemed to get going again.
43km remaining from 251km
Does Philippe Gilbert want to win today?
Of course he does. And having won here last September at the Worlds, he thinks he can do it again.
It's time for the Kruisberg climb. The race is about to kick off!
40km remaining from 251km
There may not be many riders who will see the Ardennes Classics are more important than the Tour de France, but Jelle Vanendert of Lotto Belisol is one of them. He was second here last year, and while he hopes to do well again, he said that the new finish line “suits me less. Now on there will many more riders will be able to fight for victory, but the favourites remain the same: Peter Sagan and Philippe Gilbert."
Read what Gilbert had to say here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/vanendert-chasing-another-top-amstel-finish
Here we go! Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) is on the attack, trying to split the race.
32km remaining from 251km
Van Summeren is still chasing hard on the Fromberg but has little chance of catching Astarloza.
Astarloza is on the Keutenberg climb, the steepest of the 34 climbs in today's race.
Weening has danced past Van Summeren and Pliushin on the climb.
The climb has reduced the main peloton to around 30 riders.
Weening seems to be waiting for the chasers. Behind him are two riders from Blanco: Nordhaug and Tanner plus Andrei Grivko (Astana).
24km remaining from 251km
Astarloza is giving a big nudge up front. He is looking good and faces just one lap of the world championship circuit. The peloton is going to have to really up the pace if they want to fight for victory.
Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) is in no-man's land, trying to get across to the chasers.
Astarloza starts the Cauberg, getin getting huge cheers from the beer-fueled crowd. He's suffering though.
The chasers are just 50 seconds behind him now.
Cunego is next at 1:18, with the BMC lead peloton just behind.
The peloton has picked up Cunego on the Cauberg but other riders are going on the attack.
Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) has a dig.
Marcato and Caruso are with Kreuziger, going across to the chasers. But the main group is not far behind.
Astarloza was hoping the chasers would come up to him. Instead they're being caught by riders from behind.
17km remaining from 251km
The chasers can see Astarloza and quickly sweep him up.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step are trying to get into the action, with Velits chasing the riders up front. However the peloton is not letting them get away.
They riders up front don't seem convinced they can stay away. A side wind is also slowing them.
12km remaining from 251km
This is still a very tactical race. The favourites are saving themselves for the final fireworks on the Cauberg.
The peloton can almost seen the seven attackers now.
But Nordhaug attacks on the climb. There are just 4 riders up front now.
Hesjedal attacks from the peloton! He's trying to go across to the attackers but it won't be easy.
His heads is turned to one side as he suffers on a gradual climb.
up front Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) has gone clear alone. He's got 50 metres on the other attackers.
The peloton is running out of time but the race could all change on the Cauberg. This is a thriller.
6km remaining from 251km
Kreuziger is out of the saddle giving it everything.
Hesjedal has got across to the break but it cost him dear.
3km remaining from 251km
We're on the decent to the foot of the Cauberg.
Kreuziger could win this if he has a lead over the top. The chasers are watching each other.
Ben Hermans (RadioShack) is trying to chase him alone. The peloton is 35 seconds behind.
The peloton has swept up the attackers, with Gilbert going on the attack with Gerrans.
Gilbert is trying to repeat his worlds attack. Gerrans is hanging onto his wheel, with Valverde.
Kreuziger is over he top and trying to time trial to victory. If they hesitate behind, he can win.
Gilbert has a gap on Valverde and Gerrans.
Last km for Kreuziger!
He's going to win alone!
The Czech stage racer celebrates with his arms in the air!
Sprint for second place.
Gilbert won the sprint but for second place, ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
It seems Valverde managed to edge Gilbert for second place.
Provisional results show Valverde second, with Gerrans third.
However we're still waiting for confirmation of a top ten result.
It was a close sprint finish for the podium places but results confirm Valverde took second, with Gerrans third. Gilbert was fourth after leading out the sprint.
As Roman Kreuziger celebrates on the podium with a beer, we'll wrap up our live coverage of the race.
We'll have a full race report, photo galleries and interviews on Cyclingnews very soon. Reporters Jane Aubrey and Alasdair Fotheringham are at the finish.
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