Live coverage of the 2014 edition of Amstel Gold Race.
Our Belgian friends are rarely complimentary about the beers produced by their Dutch neighbours but they will happily raise their glasses to at least one product of a Netherlands brewery, the Amstel Gold Race. The peloton is assembling on the start line in Maastricht's Markt in preparation for the 10.15am roll out, with the flag due to drop on proceedings shortly afterwards.
There are some 34 climbs on a parcours that has barely a metre of flat and, by some estimates, a bend every 400 metres, as well as - one assumes - the highest density of traffic islands per square metre in Western Europe.
Unlike the Tour of Flanders, for instance, the climbing starts quickly at Amstel Gold Race and barely lets up thereafter. The first of the 34 categorised climbs, the Slingerberg, comes after just 9.4 kilometres, and the first of four ascensions of the final climb of the Cauberg is on the menu after 54.1km.
The second passage over the Cauberg and through the finish line is after 162 kilometres. The Eyserbosweg, with 37 kilometres remaining, traditionally signals the beginning of the race's endgame, but there are still six more climbs and two more blasts up the Cauberg to come. The penultimate Cauberg ascent is just 20km from the finish, and is followed in quick succession by the Geulhemmerberg and Bemelerberg, before the final haul up the Cauberg.
For ten editions, from 2003 to 2012, the finish line was at the summit of the Cauberg, which ultimately lead to a series of predictable finales. There were exceptions to the rule, of course, but typically, the 250km race boiled down to a short, sharp battle of wits and power output on the climb. And, much like a six-pack of the title sponsors’ product, we now knew exactly what we were getting every time. It wasn’t terrible but by the tenth serving in 2012, it certainly was becoming a little bit, er, samey.
Last year, the organisers opted to alter the flavour of the course. In a mirror of the Valkenburg Worlds circuit of 1998 and 2012, the finish line was shifted to 1.8 kilometres past the top of the Cauberg, making for a slightly more subtle finale. Rather than brewing slowly to a crescendo on the Cauberg itself, there were options for riders to fizzle into action before or even after the climb.
Roman Kreuziger chose the former course of action twelve months ago, and his strength – combined with the stop-start nature of the chase over the top of the Cauberg – helped him to victory. The question as the curtain rises on the 2014 edition, then, is whether more riders will be tempted to go on the offensive from distance, or if the Cauberg will be the springboard for victory as it was for Philippe Gilbert on the same finale at the Worlds in 2012.
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The peloton are out of the neutralised zone, incidentally, and the pace is already frenetic as 23 teams desperately look to carry out their directeurs sportifs' instruction and place a man in the day's early break.
Eight riders, including Lotto-Belisol's Pim Ligthart, have established a small lead over the peloton and two more riders are apparently attempting to bridge across.
There have been plenty of early accelerations, but so far no breakaway group has succeeded in establishing an early advantage.
One man who will be keeping his powder dry for one, potentially decisive acceleration in the finale is Philippe Gilbert (BMC). The Belgian has appeared laboured for the majority of the two seasons since his annus mirabilis of 2011, although like Samson, he somehow summoned up the strength to rip clear on the Cauberg to claim the 2012 Worlds road race. The edifice didn't quite crumble all around him afterwards, but Gilbert's year in the rainbow jersey was certainly a trying one.
Victory at Brabantse Pijl in midweek, however, means that Gilbert has a spring in his step as he faces into Amstel Gold Race, where he was an emphatic winner in 2010 and 2011. Like many at BMC, Gilbert seems more in tune with the administration of new manager Allan Peiper, who held him back from the cobbled classics in order to focus on this week's races. While Gilbert is the natural favourite, however, he warned that Michal Kwiatkowski and Alejandro Valverde lead a long, long list of rivals.
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After the opening climb of the Slingerberg, an early break has yet to get itself organised and clear of the main peloton, but it's surely only a matter of time.
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There are nine riders in a group with Pim Lighthart (Lotto-Belisol), which is clear of the peloton and has established a four-minute lead by the foot of the day's second climb, the Adsteeg.
Information has been at a premium from race radio in these opening kilometres, but much like Fox News on election night, the Lotto-Belisol Twitter feed is calling the break in favour of their man, Pim Ligthart. They claim that the group of ten now has a lead of ten minutes over the main field, and presumably a decisive polling advantage in a couple of crucial swing states.
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The escapees are Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Matej Mohoric (Cannondale), Pim Ligthart (Lotto Belisol), Manuel Belletti (Androni Venezuela), Pirmin Lang (IAM Cycling), Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen), James Vanlandschoot (Wanty Gobert Groupe) and Nicola Boem (Bardiani CSF), and after the third climb, the Lange Raarberg, they have a lead of ten minutes over the main peloton.
It's interesting to see 19-year-old Matej Mohorič (Cannondale) in this early break. The Slovenian rider has fond memories of racing in Limburg, of course. He claimed the junior world road race title here in 2012 when he held off Australia's Caleb Ewan to take the win.
Mohoric's fine win in Valkenburg was followed by a rainbow jersey in the under-23 ranks last Autumn in Florence when he soloed to victory after jumping clear on the climb to Fiesole. Mohoric has raced relatively sparingly with Cannondale thus far following his debut at the Tour Down Under in January, and his last outing before the Ardennes classics was the Settimana Coppi e Bartali last month.
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Rory Sutherland (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale) have bridged across to the leaders, incidentally, and the ten-man group has an advantage of some 11:10 over the main peloton.
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The weather forecast for this Easter Weekend in Limburg predicted rain, but instead it looks set to be a dry and sunny Amstel Gold Race. The temperature is currently around 15 degrees, while there is a stiff cross-tailwind up the Cauberg to finish line.
Dan Benson was at the start in Maastricht's Markt this morning, and he is immediately off the, er, mark with a dreadful pun. "IAM hungry for results was the order coming from the IAM Cycling team bus this morning," he writes. "The Swiss team are chomping at the bit for a result after a poor stretch in the cobbled races. They’re here with Sylvain Chavanel designated in the role of chief chef and he’ll be supported by Sweden's Thomas Lövkvist."
“We have Chavanel here and we’ll try and support him in a good way,” Lövkvist told Cyclingnews at the start in Maastricht. "I hope that I can be with him for as long as possible. It’s true that we’ve had some misfortune with illnesses during the cobbled Classics and we didn’t have much luck but eventually things will turn around. The morale is good, there’s a good spirit. Chavanel is a good rider, and I’m sure he’ll be competitive, no worries.”
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After the day's fourth climb, the Bergeseweg, the ten leaders have stretched their gap over the main peloton out to 13:45.
Not too many of the big favourites are represented by a teammate in this break, although Ag2r-La Mondiale have done well to get a rider of Riblon's calibre in there to protect the interests of Carlos Betancur. The Colombian can also rely on Romain Bardet for support in the finale.
Alasdair Fotheringham caught up with BMC’s Peter Velits before the start. The Slovak is here to support Philippe Gilbert – “we’ll make it all as easy as possible for him during the race and then try with him in the final,” he said – and he explained that the subtleties and difficulties of Amstel Gold Race extend far beyond the four ascents of the Cauberg.
“I have never done the Tour of Flanders, so it’s hard to compare but I think there are a lot of similarities between Amstel and that race – it’s always uphill and downhill with a lot of short, steep climbs, with lots of narrow roads, a lot of traffic islands and so on, it’s a little bit dangerous but that’s the same for everybody,” Velits said. “I’m kind of in my home terrain, though, because I lived near here [over the border in Belgian Limburg] for three years with my brother [Martin of Omega Pharma-Quick Step] so I know the climbs in Amstel very well, which is a plus.”
The comparison between Amstel Gold Race and the Tour of Flanders is an interesting one, not least because the “Ardennes-ification” of Amstel Gold Race is a relatively recent phenomenon. For one thing, the short, sharp hills of Limburg have almost as much in common with the cobbled hellingen of the De Ronde as they do with the longer climbs of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Meanwhile, during the 1990s, when Amstel Gold Race took place the week after Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the race saw many of the big hitters from the cobbled classics take part, as they sought to pick up World Cup points in the fifth and final round before the series’ lengthy summer hiatus. Back then, of course, the finish line was on the flat in Maastricht, but since the finale switched to the Cauberg and the World Cup ceased to exist, the race has become more and more similar to Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallonne, to such an extent that the “cobbled” and “Ardennes” classics now feel like two very separate series of races.
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The escapees continue to hold a sizeable advantage over the main peloton. The gap now stands at 13:45 as they approach the Sibbergrubbe before then heading towards the Cauberg for the first time.
Danish dynamo Jakob Fuglsang lines up as part of a stellar Astana squad today. The team had a quiet cobbles campaign, even by their standards, and will be looking to improve on those results during the Ardennes. The big question is whether there are too many cooks in the Kazakh kitchen, with 2012 Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Maxim Iglinskiy, 2012 Liege runner-up Vincenzo Nibali and 2012 Amstel Gold winner Enrico Gasparotto also in the team.
“My form is pretty good at the moment but it should be after Catalunya which went well for me," Fuglsang said in Maastricht. "Today we have Max and Gaspo as team leaders but we have Nibali and myself in free roles as well. We’ll see how it goes but we have a strong team. We need to make sure we play our cards right though and turn this to our advantage instead of just waiting.
"For me Amstel is a really nice race but in the end Liege suits me the best. We’ll see what the legs are like but Fleche is the one I hate from the three. That finish on the steep, steep final…it’s normally the entire bunch finishing together."
Astana's quartet of contenders are represented in the day's early break by Alexey Lutsenko, a man who, like Matej Mohoric, knows what it takes to conquer the Cauberg. Lutsenko triumphed in the under-23 road race at the Valkenburg Worlds in 2012,
. The youngster has yet to scale the heights in the professional ranks, although he did make his Tour de France debut as a neo-pro last season and made it deep into the third week, finally abandoning on the road to Alpe d'Huez, just four days from Paris.
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BMC are the team currently leading the chase in the main peloton, but Philippe Gilbert's men won't want to take the weight of the entire race upon their shoulders. Ag2r and Astana are absolved of duty, but the likes of Movistar, Belkin, Garmin-Sharp and Katusha will be expected to make a contribution as the afternoon wears on.
After spending much of his career trying to decide if he was a stage race rider (2004, 2011) or a classics specialist (2007, 2008) Damiano Cunego seemed to have settled on "neither of the above" for the majority of the past two, rather lacklustre seasons. However, the Lampre-Merida man showed distinct signs of form at the Tour of the Basque Country and arrives in Limburg nurturing hopes of at least being a factor in Amstel Gold Race, which he won six years ago.
“This is always a very difficult race to ‘read’ because the terrain is so complicated. But we’re here, and the weather’s nice, so I’ll try and do a good race,” Cunego said at the start this morning. “I’m going well, my condition’s better than it was this time last year, that’s not an excuse for what happened but it’s going to stimulate me to do better this time round. You always need to be very patient in this race and wait for exactly the right moment, when the big favourites start to move ahead. Who’s the top favourite? Valverde.”
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Over the first ascension of the Cauberg, the break had a lead of some 14:41 over the main peloton, and they still hold at least twelve minutes of that advantage as they head towards the Wolfsberg, the day's eighth climb.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) wasn’t giving much away at the sign-on this morning, although his performances so far this season have spoken on his behalf. After his empathic disposal of Peter Sagan in the finale of Strade Bianche, the Pole installed himself as one of the favourites for success in this week’s trio of classics in Limburg and Wallonia. “We’ve already had an extremely good season with Omega Pharma-QuickStep in all races as well as the Classics, but we are sure to want to keep on fighting here as well,” Kwiatkowski said. “I did a very good Tour of the Basque Country, so I’m feeling very confident, I got some good results [fourth in Amstel, fifth in Fleche] here last year as well so that’s another good reason to be motivated.”
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Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Katusha have joined BMC is setting the tempo on the front end of the peloton, and the break's lead is at a slightly more manageable 12 minutes.
News reaching us that Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) has been forced to abandon the race due to a crash.
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Nicki Soresen (Tinkoff-Saxo) has also been forced out of the race after crashing on the Schweiberg, while Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) has also gone down but we understand that he remains in the race.
Andy Schleck has remounted and is back in the body of the main peloton, but for the second successive year, Joaquim Rodriguez's Amstel Gold Race challenge has been ruined by a crash. Last year, he went down with 45km remaining, and though the remainder of his Ardennes campaign was in doubt, Rodriguez was back in action at Fleche Wallonne and finished second at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. We're waiting for information on the extent of his injuries this time around.
He won't like to be reminded, but as in 2012 and 2013, Rodriguez is again sharing the so-called
with Dani Moreno at BMC directeur sportif Valerio Piva's hotel near Liege for his Ardennes campaign.
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Meanwhile, the pace has shot up once again in the main peloton, and another minute has been shaved off the break's lead after the Camerig, the day's 11th climb. The gap now stands at 11:00.
It’s now ten years, a positive test for CERA and a doping suspension since Davide Rebellin’s Amstel Gold Race win of 2004, the first of a hat-trick of Ardennes victories that launched a thousand “Trebellin” headlines. Now 42 years of age, Rebellin, who turned professional immediately after the Barcelona Olympics at the same time as Marco Pantani and Michele Bartoli, is in action this afternoon with the CCC Polsat squad. “It’s nice to be back here in Amstel, although it’s always a very tense race, very nervous with not a single moment in which you can relax,” Rebellin said at the start. “For me one of the big differences to when I won is that new extra section after the top of the Cauberg [introduced in 2012] and I would have liked it to stay the same, but the race is essentially the same. If you’ve got the legs on the Cauberg, you’ll have the legs to stay away.”
Rebellin was third at the Vuelta a Murcia at the start of the season and 7th in Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday, although he won’t be at either Flèche Wallonne or Liège-Bastogne-Liège as ASO have opted not to extend an invitation to CCC Polsat. “It’s been written somewhere that I’m going to continue for another two years after this one, but I don’t actually know, I have to take things more on the day by day,” Rebellin said. “Next year’s still undecided. Either way it’s been a good season for me, ever since Andalusia and the feelings are still good. After Amstel, I’ll be doing the Tour of Turkey, a couple of races in Poland and then the Tour de Suisse. My team’s is different to other ones I’ve been on, but they’re building towards the future and I’m happy here.”
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The break is past the midway point of the race, and our ten leaders - Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Rory Sutherland (Tinkoff-Saxo), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Matej Mohoric (Cannondale), Pim Ligthart (Lotto Belisol), Manuel Belletti (Androni Venezuela), Pirmin Lang (IAM Cycling), Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen), James Vanlandschoot (Wanty Gobert Groupe) and Nicola Boem (Bardiani CSF) - retain a margin of 10:20 over the bunch.
The break covered 121 kilometres in the first three hours of racing, incidentially, making for an average speed of 40.3kph thus far. They have now tackled 15 of the day's 34 climbs, and are heading from the Eperheide towards hill 16, as it were, the Gulpenerberg.
Andy Schleck has joined Joaquim Rodriguez in abandoning Amstel Gold Race. The Luxembourger was a faller in what we understand was the same incident and although he was able to rejoin the peloton, he has now been forced out by a knee injury he picked up in the crash.
Katusha press officer Philippe Maertens, meanwhile, has explained on Twitter that Joaquim Rodriguez was struck by another rider and was "too dizzy in the head to continue," adding that it was "too early to say something on coming races," namely Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Other riders to abandon thus far are Thomas Dekker (Garmin-Sharp), Nicki Sorensen (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Arnaud Courteille (FDJ.fr).
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Movistar have since joined the chase effort at the head of the peloton, and their impetus has helped to bring the ten leaders' advantage back to a shade over nine minutes. Meanwhile, Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM) has also abandoned.
Dan Benson caught up with early escapee Rory Sutherland at the start in Maastricht, and the Australian
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The break's lead is down to 8:10 on the day's 20th climb, the Vrakelberg, and the peloton's resolve is definitely beginning to stiffen. The likes of BMC and Movistar will want the bulk of the chasing work done before the favourites start to show their hands from the Eyserbosweg onwards in the finale.
A puncture for Pirmin Lang, but he quickly wheels to a halt and pops out his rear wheel, and he should be back with his breakaway companions promptly.
Host broadcaster NOS have lost live pictures, but the billowing flags we can see on the images from the fixed camera in the finishing straight suggests that there is still a stiff tailwind off the top of the Cauberg.
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The Orica-GreenEdge team of Simon Gerrans has now added it weight to the pursuit of the ten leaders, who are heading towards their second passage over the Cauberg.
David Tanner (Tinkoff-Saxo) has been brought down by a crash and the peloton splits in two soon afterwards. A group of around 35 riders have a lead of ten seconds or so over the main body of the bunch, but in spite of the sinious roads, it should come back together again.
The break, meanwhile, are on the Cauberg, where Mohoric forces the pace, renewing acquaintances with the climb on which he forged his junior world title in 2012.
Word reaching us from the main peloton that Geraint Thomas (Sky) was caught up in a crash, although the Welshman is back on his back and chasing on.
The main bunch is back together after that earlier split, and while GreenEdge and Movistar continue to lead, a delegation of Astana jerseys is moving towards the head of the bunch.
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The ten leaders cross the finish line for the second time with a lead of seven minutes over the main peloton. There are twelve of the 34 climbs still to come in the remaining 88 kilometres, with the Geulhemmerberg next on the agenda.
The peloton is now on the cavernous Cauberg for the second time, and faced by a wall of noise to match the gradient they face. Movistar continue to lead, although Michael Schar (BMC) is also up there keeping a watching brief for Philippe Gilbert.
There's a mechnical problem for Bauke Mollema (Belkin) after the Cauberg, and he is forced to change bikes. The Dutchman is now tucked into the race convoy and trying to latch back on to the main peloton.
It's been reported that Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) has also abandoned Amstel Gold Race, and Haimar Zubeldia (Trek) has also withdrawn from the race.
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We're waiting for confirmation as to why Dan Martin has abandoned, although it's certainly possible that he could have been caught up in a crash. The television pictures have left quite a bit to be desired so far, and we've certainly missed at least two spills in the past hour of racing.
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Heading towards the Bemelerberg, the peloton has slashed the break's lead to a shade over six minutes, with Orica-GreenEdge particularly active at the head of the bunch in support of Simon Gerrans. On the eve of the race, Cyclingnews visited the GreenEdge hotel to run the rule over Gerrans' Scott Foil bike for the Ardennes Classiccs and you can watch the video here.
The black jerseys of Omega Pharma-QuickStep are now also moving towards the head of the peloton in a bid to move Michal Kwiatkowski towards the front. Right at the back, meanwhile, the ever tranquillo Carlos Betancur is sitting calmly surrounded by Ag2r teammates.
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The break's lead is beginning to tumble quite steadily now. It stands at 5:39, while a number of riders are beginning to be jettisoned off the back on the Bemelerberg as Tinkoff-Saxo hit the front in support of Roman Kreuziger. Betancur will need to start moving up through the peloton before it fractures completely.
The break continues to collaborate smoothly but a number of its members are beginning to flag a little, including Nicola Boem (Bardiani-CSF).
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Sky's Ian Boswell is one of the riders dropped by the main bunch. His teammates Josh Edmondson and Geraint Thomas have already abandoned incidentally, although Ben Swift and Edvald Boasson Hagen are presumably still in the body of the peloton.
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Spanish champion Jesús Herrada puts in a mammoth turn on the front the peloton on behalf of Alejandro Valverde as the break's lead drops to inside five minutes for the first time.
Michael Valgren Andersen (Tinkoff-Saxo) comes off in the main peloton and tumbles into a ditch, but he quickly remounts and chases back on.
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We can expect the peloton to be whittled down further on the forthcoming Loorberg (1.4km at 5.5%), as this slow-burning Amstel Gold Race fizzles towards its climax.
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The pace continues to ratchet upwards in the main peloton and the break's lead drops accordingly. The gap is just over four minutes as Pim Ligthart leads them onto the lower slopes of the Loorberg.
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QuickStep lead the on the Loorberg, with Michal Kwiatskowski sitting in third wheel. World champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) als shows himself for the first time. The road is exposed over the top of this climb, and consequently all of the contenders are jostling for positions at the head of the bunch.
Tony Martin is up there for QuickStep, ready, no doubt, to put his head down and try to split the bunch in the section of crosswind that follows the Loorberg.
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With 200 kilometres in their legs, the break's efforts are beginning to tell, while the big hitters are only starting their race. QuickStep string out the peloton on the other side of the Loorberg, and the break's lead is down to 3:30 and falling rapidly.
QuickStep's forcing has sown a degree of panic in the main peloton, and there's a scramble for positions in their slipstream. A determined delegation from Astana splits and regroups around a traffic island as they bring Vincenzo Nibali and Maxim Iglinskiy towards the front.
The unity of the break fractures on the climb of the Gulpenerberg. Nicola Boem, who seemed to be flagging ten kilometres ago, accelerates off the front, with a group of five chasing just 10 seconds behind.
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The main group now hits the 15% slopes of the Gulpenerberg. BMC, QuickStep and Astana are all well-represented at the head of the peloton, just under three minutes down on Boem.
Boem's forcing has left six riders at the head of the race. He is joined by Lutsenko, Ligthart, Van Hecke, Riblon and Belletti.
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Tony Martin is forced off into a hedge on the roadside as the bunch negotiates a traffic island. The German seems unhurt but his slow bike change means he'll be hard-pressed to play any further part in supporting Michal Kwiatkowski in the finale.
The bunch is now hurtling towards the base of climb 27, the Kruisberg. That's followed promptly by the Eyserbosweg, the climb which Damiano Cunego reckons heralds the real beginning of Amstel Gold Race.
Giant-Shimano have taken up pace-setting at the front in support of Tom Dumoulin as the bunch tackles the Kruisberg. The break, meanwhile, is already on the slopes of the tough Eyserbosweg.
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Over the top of the Kruisberg, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) springs into action and attacks out of the main peloton. As he swoops down the descent, the Frenchman has five riders for company.
Zdenek Stybar (QuickStep), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge), Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol)and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) are the riders who have bridged across to Voeckler, and they start the Eyserbosweg just 2:40 down on the leaders.
This is a strong chasing group and a well-balanced one, too, with representatives from QuickStep, GreenEdge, Astana and BMC. The onus will surely now fall upon Movistar to lead the chase from the main peloton behind, given that Gilbert, Gerrans, Betancur, Nibali and Kwiatkowski all have proxies out in front.
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The front group is down to just three riders, incidentally - Riblon, Boem and Van Hecke - but all eyes are on the Voeckler group, which contains a number of potential winners. Voeckler et al are 2:27 down on the trio of leaders and 30 seconds or so up on the bunch.
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Voeckler is dissatisfied with the pace in the chase group and zooms to the front again on the Fromberg in a bid to inject some more urgency into their efforts. Voeckler being Voeckler, there is the obligatory grimace for the cameras and a long, pained looked back at his companions in the move, but this is more than a simple exercise in showing off the jersey. He knows this is a very decent move with a favourable blend of teams represented.
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The lead group is down to just two riders - Riblon and Van Hecke - as they tackle the Keutenberg, with its stiff 22% gradient. Voeckler, Van Avermaet and company are on the climb too, just 1:58 down on the leaders, with the bunch a further 20 seconds or so back.
Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) attacks from the bunch in a bid to bridge to the Voeckler group. This race is proving ever more difficult to control.
As Kolobnev comes across, Voeckler puts in another huge dig on the front of the chase group, and only Van Avermaet can follow initially. Stybar, meanwhile, has been dropped by the Voeckler group.
Paul Martens (Belkin) and Bjorn Leukemans also managed to get across to the Voeckler group with Kolobnev on the Keutenberg, and they are now 1:45 down on Riblon and Van Hecke.
The Voeckler group is dangling just in front of the peloton, and a number of riders are trying to bridge across before the penultimate ascent of the Cauberg, which is our next climb. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) puts in a dig to try and come across, but he is quickly brought to heel.
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Riblon leads Van Hecke onto the Cauberg for the penultimate time. They have 1:38 over the Voeckler-Van Avermaet group, and 2:14 over the main peloton.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) are perhaps the only major contenders without any representative up the road, and it will be interesting to see if their teams take up the reins behind in the main peloton.
Garmin's Nathan Haas leads the peloton at the foot of the Cauberg in support of Tom Jelte Slagter, and QuickStep and Movistar are also moving riders up as the gradient bites.
Haas opens a gap over the peloton on the Cauberg and is trying to bridge across alone to the Voeckler group, although he'll have his work cut out to bridge the 20-second gap by himself.
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Voeckler leads Van Avermaet and Leukemans across the finish line 1:21 down on the two leaders, but the main peloton are pegging them back inch by inch on this exposed tailwind section over the top of the Cauberg.
The main peloton has been significantly whittled down in size, but no one team has taken responsibility for shutting down the chasing group. Riblon and Van Hecke, meanwhile, are continuing to battle gamely, and still hold a lead of 1:20 over the chasers as they begin the Geulhemmerberg.
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The QuickStep-led peloton closes to within touching distance of the chase group on the lower slopes of the Geulhemmerberg, but they haven't quite caught them.
Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) tries to take a flyer just as the bunch closes, and Jakob Fuglsang tracks him.
Van Avermaet, Leukemans, Weening, Kolobnev and Martens catch back up to Weening and Fuglsang on the descent, and still the main peloton has yet to bridge the gap.
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Riblon and Van Hecke, meanwhile, still have 44 seconds in hand and continue to collaborate smoothly as they barrel towards the penultimate climb of the Bemelerberg.
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Van Avermaet and Fuglsang accelerate away from the remants of the chase group. Their erstwhile companions have been swallowed by the main peloton.
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This is a decent effort from Fuglsang and Van Avermaet, who are closing in on the two leaders, but surely the slight lull in the peloton's pace can't last much longer.
We haven't had a decent look at the faces in the main peloton for quite some time, but some fast finishers like Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge), Ben Swift (Sky) and Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar) seem to be still in there.
10km remaining from 251km
Van Avermaet and Fuglsang make contact with Riblon and Van Hecke out in front as they approach the foot of the Bemelerberg, but the bunch is not far behind.
Fuglsang forces the pace in the four-man leading group at the foot of the Bemelerberg, and Preben Van Hecke is quickly dropped. Garmin and QuickStep lead the main peloton some 14 seconds back.
8km remaining from 251km
Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) attacks out of the peloton in pursuit of the four leaders, and he is dragging a QuickStep rider with him.
Once Caruso makes it across, Van Avermaet puts in a dig of his own and alone at the head of the race. The main peloton is about to swallow the rest of the break, however.
7km remaining from 251km
Van Avermaet fades over the top of the climb and Caruso and Fuglsang are the next to try their luck, but the bunch is almost upon them.
Gruppo compatto with a shade under 7 kilometres remaining. Fabian Wegman's chasing for Garmin brought the bunch back up to the leaders, and now Vincenzo Nibali is setting the pace in front. There will be 50 riders or so in the main bunch when it hits the foot of the Cauberg.
6km remaining from 251km
A delegation of Orica-GreenEdge riders takes over at the head of the peloton. Michael Matthews sits in fourth wheel and Simon Gerrans is in there too. This is an ideal situation for the Australian squad, with two serious options for the finale.
5km remaining from 251km
Weening puts in a huge turn on the front, while Burghardt shepherds Gilbert towards the front. The battle for positions is ferocious on this fast, fast descent to the foot of the Cauberg...
Davide Rebellin (CCC Polsat) is also well-placed near the front as they approach the sharp left-hand turn into the Cauberg.
4km remaining from 251km
QuickStep try to lead out Kwiatkowski at the base of the climb but it's Samuel Sanchez (BMC) who attacks first.
Gerrans, Valverde and Kwiatkowski follow before a flagging Sanchez swings over...
Philippe Gilbert surges to the front on the opposite side of the road, opening a decent gap in the big ring, just as he did at the Worlds in 2012.
2km remaining from 251km
Gilbert crests the Cauberg with a small gap, and he doubles once the road straightens out. The Belgian is taking full advantage of this tailwind.
1km remaining from 251km
Kwiatkowski tries to breathe life into the chase, with Valverde and Gerrans locked onto his wheel, but it doesn't look like anything can stop Philippe Gilbert.
1km remaining from 251km
Gilbert enters the final kilometre with a a sizeable lead.
Just like in September 2012, Gilbert can afford to celebrate long before the finish line. With 400 metres to go he is already punching the air.
Kwiatkowski is getting no support behind and Jelle Vanendert (Lotto) jumps over the top of the chasers in the race for second place.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC) crosses the line alone to win Amstel Gold Race for the third time, after victories in 2010 and 2011.
Jelle Vandendert nips away for second place, while Gerrans wins the sprint for third.
Valverde took 4th ahead of Kiwatikowski and Simon Geschke, while Mollema, Enrico Gasparotto, Dani Moreno and Arashiro rounded out the top ten.
1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
2 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Belisol
3 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica Greenedge
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
5 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team
6 Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano
7 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
8 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana Pro Team
9 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Team Katusha
10 Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Team Europcar
Gilbert's attack was almost a carbon copy of the acceleration that won the world championships in 2012 - all that was missing was the inadvertent lead-out from Vincenzo Nibali. He accelerated on the inside of the bend on the steepest section of the climb, ripped away in the big ring and then had more than enough in reserve to buffer his advantage still further on the plateau over the summit.
The Cauberg has been something of a personal fiefdom for Gilbert over the years. As well as that Worlds victory in 2012, he built his 2011 and 2010 Amstel victories on this climb. Indeed, even at his lowest ebb in the spring of 2012, he put in a defiant but unsuccessful dig on the Cauberg en route to 6th place at Amstel Gold, while last year, his acceleration on the climb wasn't quite enough to peg back Roman Kreuziger.
After victory at Brabantse Pijl, the question now is whether Gilbert can match his startling 2011 feat of winning four classics in ten days. Certainly, Gilbert will line up as the favourite for Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege but for now, the Belgian will surely be pleased simply to have returned to something like his former self in a spring classic.
Thanks for joining our live coverage on Cyclingnews this afternoon. A full report, results and pictures will follow here, while Dan Benson and Alasdair Fotheringham will have all the news and reaction from Limburg. We'll be back with live coverage of Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday.
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