Full live coverage of the first of the 2017 Ardennes Classics
Good morning, happy Easter Sunday, and a very warm welcome to the Cyclingnews live race centre, where today we’ll be bringing you full live coverage of the 2017 edition of the Amstel Gold Race.
Yes, the Ardennes Classics are here. We’re not actually in the Ardennes, but that technicality has never stopped anyone lumping Amstel (which takes place in the Limburg region of southern Holland) in with La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege (both actually in the Ardennes) as the opening act of this triptych of hilly one-dayers. The cobbled classics are a tough act to follow – especially in such a vintage year – and the Ardennes have work to do to shake off their ‘boring and predictable’ tag. That’s why the Cauberg has been removed from Amstel’s finale – time to see if it breathes new life into the race.
Start time: 10:20 CET
The team buses have arrived and the crowds have gathered in Maastricht’s Markt square, where riders are currently heading up to the podium to sign on for the race. The roll-out will be given at 10:20 local time.
Before we go anywhere, it’s probably a good time to start thinking about lining up this preview podcast from our collaboration with the Recon Ride. Dane Cash and Cosmo Catalano, in their dulcet American tones, talk through the race, the route, and, of course, the contenders. You can find it here.
Let’s have a chat about the route ourselves, after yet more tinkering from the organisers. The Cauberg has been the emblematic climb of the race for many years but the bold decision has been taken to strip it of its status as the final climb of the day. When the finish line was placed at the top, the preceding 260 kilometres became a bit of a waiting game, while the decision to move the line 1.8km back from the top in 2013 changed relatively little. The climb still features three times (lastly with 19km to go), but now the gentler Bemelerberg is the final act of the day with 5.6km remaining.
So, the Cauberg is no longer the focal point it once was, but how will that affect the complexion of the race? Well, organisers hope it will make things more open, with more riders and teams willing to roll the dice from further out. Then again, it could make a sizeable group sprint even more likely.
@Ride_Argyle Sun, 16th Apr 2017 07:52:45
To win the Amstel Gold Race you need to have the climbing legs to absorb the 35 climbs that line the route, the punch to attack or follow attacks on the most important of those climbs, and the kick to finish it all off. We've picked out 10 riders who can do just that today.
A shot of the podium in Maastricht's square from our friends at Sporza. It's an overcast and slightly chilly out there.
And they're off!
The riders roll out of the Markt square and are currently making their way through the short neutralised zone.
It's not just the men's race on the menu today; after a 14-year hiatus, the women's Amstel Gold Race is back on the calendar, meaning that, with the introduction of a women's Liege-Bastogne-Liege, there's a full Ardennes programme equal to that of the men.
The women are doing 121km and for them the Cauberg will be the final climb before a short run to the line. That gets underway at 10:40 local time, and we'll be keeping you up to speed on all the important developments, but for now have a read of Sadhbh O'Shea's preview:
The flag has dropped and the race is officially underway. Now to see who wants to make it into the break.
Three riders have clipped off the front. For now they have a slim advantage.
Three more bridge to the leaders to make six out front, including Lars Boom and Stijn Vandenbergh. But there are others who don't want to miss out, and another group has clipped off in pursuit.
The women's race has just rolled out.
The six chasers joined up with the leaders to make a group of 12 out front, and that looks like our break of the day, with a decent advantage over the peloton being opened up already. We'll get the full list of names to you shortly.
Here's the make-up of the 12-rider breakaway
Lars Boom (LottoNL-Jumbo), Stijn Vandenbergh (AG2R-La Mondiale), Mads Wurtz Schmidt (Katusha-Alpecin), Tim Ariesen (Roompot), Nikita Stalnov (Astana), Michal Paluta (CCC Sprandi Polkowice), Brendan Canty (Cannondale-Drapac), Johann Van Zyl (Dimension Data), Kenneth Van Rooy (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Pieter Van Speybrouck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Vincenzo Albanese (Bardiani-CSF), Fabien Grellier (Direct Energie).
@TeamUAEAbuDhabi Sun, 16th Apr 2017 08:56:45
Big blow for Swift and UAE. They also have Diego Ulissi and Rui Costa in their ranks today.
The leaders currently have a buffer of around 3:30 on the peloton.
Michael Matthews is the bookies’ favourite. The Australian is a class act but will be feeling the need to start building a one-day palmares that his talent merits. With the punch to follow pretty much any move and one of the strongest sprints in today’s peloton, he has all the ingredients, and has been close here in the past, with 5th last year and 3rd the year before. He’s in fine form after winning a stage at Pais Vasco and, moreover, at new team Sunweb he’s free from the shackles of that often counter-productive relationship with Simon Gerrans.
The lead has swelled out to 7:30 as Lotto Soudal and Sunweb take the reins in the bunch.
In the women's race, we have two riders out front: Marta Tagliaferro (Cylance) and Sara Mustonen (Veloconcept). They have a lead of around 45 seconds with three of the 17 climbs already ticked off.
We're a shade over an hour into the race with 45km and four climbs already on the clock. The first appearance of the Cauberg is coming soon, after 55 kilometres, and shortly afterwards the riders will cross the finish line for the first time before setting out on the first of a couple of different loops.
Here's a first shot of the breakaway crossing the finish line for the first time. 8 minutes the gap.
Alejandro Valverde is literally odds-on to win Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday. Crazy. He has never won Amstel, but everything he has touched so far this season has turned to, well, Gold. He’d sure like to complete the Ardennes bingo card today, even if he's not best pleased about the new course. More on that here:
It's all kicking off in the women's race with 50-odd kilometres on the clock. Tagliaferro and Mustonen were caught after the Bergseweg, but since then the peloton has split, with two big groups and a few smaller ones out on the road.
182km remaining from 264km
Back in the men's race, the situation is pretty stable with just over 80km on the clock, our 12 leaders enjoying a buffer of 8 minutes. After the Cauberg and the finish line came the Geulhemmerberg (we'll see that combo twice more today), but after that there has been a 20km stretch without a climb. Next up, though, is the Heiweg, the first of four climbs in the space of 14km.
Bahrain-Merida haven’t won much this season but they boast an exciting line-up here, including defending champion Enrico Gasparotto and bang-in-form Sonny Colbrelli. Indeed, Gaspa may find himself acting merely as a foil for his compatriot, who won a stage at Paris-Nice last month before impressing at the cobbled classics and then confirming his step up this year with a quality win from a reduced group at Brabantse Pijl. On paper, he’s one of the fastest in the field, and he proved at Brabantse and on the cobbles that he can climb and he can race. Hopes are high for the Italian.
165km remaining from 264km
The gap is starting to come down, with the 12 leaders now seven minutes up the road. Lotto Soudal and Sunweb are still prominent forces in the bunch.
Speaking of Lotto Soudal, one comforting constant in this ever-changing world is that Tim Wellens will embark on unlikely attacking foray in the Ardennes. Recent years may have favoured the cautious over the adventurous, but one day it will happen, Tim, and the joke will be on everyone else.
Lotto Soudal can afford to mix it up, with rising star Tiesj Benoot joining Wellens in their ranks, along with Sean de Bie and Jelle Vanendert. In any case, they’ll be hoping the Ardennes will be kinder to them than the cobbled classics of northern Belgium. It would be hard to stoop much lower.
Grellier needs a wheel change after a puncture but shouldn't have too much of a problem joining back up with the breakaway.
As the men's race remains calm for now, it's anything but for the women. That 35-strong front peloton has split to smithereens over the Cauberg, and a group including Van der Breggen, Blaak, Deignan, Longo-Borghini, Rivera, Ferrand-Prevot, and Niewiadoma (a bloody strong group, then), is off the front. But it looks like more riders are joining and the situation is changing all the time.
Another note on the women's race as Amy Pieters, Audrey Cordon open a gap. Roxane Knetemann has joined them, so we have a leading trio with a gap of around 30 seconds. 25km to go.
Nice shot of the race from one of our photographers, Tim de Waele.
138km remaining from 264km
6:40 is the gap now with three hours on the clock. The average speed for the race so far is a shade over 40km/h.
In the women's race we have a new leading trio after the penultimate ascent of the Cauberg. It's Deignan, Longo-Borghini and Niewiadoma up front, with a lead of 25 seconds over a diminished front group heading into the final 15km.
130km remaining from 264km
Some crashes in the bunch but nothing serious. The race is dipping into Belgium at the half-way mark.
In the women's race Annemiek Van Vleuten has attacked from the chase group and has made it up to the leaders, dragging Van der Breggen and Rivera with her. So there are six up front with 7.5 to go. And now Van der Breggen attacks and goes solo. Who's going to take responsibility to shut it down?
Philippe Gilbert and Michael Valgren among the riders who hit the deck, but the Tour of Flanders champ and last year's Amstel runner-up are back in the peloton now.
It's looking good for Van der Breggen in the women's race with a sizeable lead and just 3km to go. The chase has hardly been a strong one - Deignan wasn't going to work, and Rivera simply left it to the others. Just over 2km to go as they go over the Cauberg for the final time.
Rivera and Van Vleuten dropped. This is now a race for second between Deignan, Longo-Borghini, and Niewiadoma.
Anna Van der Breggen wins the women's Amstel Gold Race
The European and Olympic champion has plenty of time to sit up and celebrate a fine victory. Rivera and Van Vleuten rejoin the group behind but Deignan produces a strong sprint to make it a one-two for Boels Dolmans. The pair embrace beyond the finish line - a great day's work.
Back in the men's race and the gap to the 12 leaders is starting to come down now. 5:30 is the current buffer with around 115km left to race.
We've just covered the 18th climb of the day, the Gulpenberg, meaning we're just over half-way through the climbs on today's menu.
Crash for Benoot, who has a teammate to help him back to the peloton.
100km remaining from 264km
The gap continues to fall as we enter the final 100km of racing. 4:15 is the current margin to our 12 leaders.
90km remaining from 264km
Four minutes is the gap now as the riders approach the Cauberg for the second time. Then it's through the finish line once more to embark on what should be a defining portion of the race.
Can Philippe Gilbert make the same impact in the Ardennes as he did on the cobbles? What a spring the former world champion has had, winning the Tour of Flanders after moving to QuickStep to focus on the cobbled classics for the first time in years, and now he reaches the races that have bought him most success over the years in his best form since he won the Worlds back in 2012. The Belgian has won Amstel three times (2010, 2011, 2014) and has to be considered among the top bracket of favourites.
Alongside him in a strong QuickStep line-up are Petr Vakoc, the 24-year-old who is growing in stature in these races, and Dan Martin, for whom the Ardennes are always key part of the season.
Cauberg time for our leaders. Stalnov leads the way.
Lars Boom leads the break over the finish line for the second time. The peloton is on the Cauberg, lined with fans as always.
A couple of attacks towards the top of the Cauberg. A rider from Roompot kicks it off and a Bora rider jumps across before a number of teams throw riders up to mark the move.
83km remaining from 264km
The attacks are duly neutralised and the peloton comes down the finishing straight as one big bunch, and they do so 3:45 in arrears.
Sam Oomen takes a heavy tumble. The young rider could be an important rider for Matthews today, and that crash shouldn't hold him back as he makes his way up through the cars now.
77km remaining from 264km
The gap hangs above three minutes as the riders pass through the feed zone and take on some sustenance.
74km remaining from 264km
BMC hit the front and take control now. They have the man of the moment in Greg Van Avermaet, winner of Paris-Roubaix last weekend. It's probably all for him, but Ben Hermans, so impressive in Oman earlier in the year, is sure to be a useful ally.
72km remaining from 264km
The pace rises in the pack on the approach to the Bemelerberg, which is now a really key climb in this race. It may not be as steep as the Cauberg, at just 4%, but after this appearance it will be the final test before a 5km run to the line.
69km remaining from 264km
The intensification in the peloton has caused the gap to the break to tumble. Just two minutes now.
BMC are piling it on here. A hard, exacting race would suit Van Avermaet and he's clearly told his troops to soften everyone else up.
65km remaining from 264km
The gap is down to a minute now.
Rui Costa is off the back. Not sure what happened to him but he's in the cars making use of a couple of sticky bottles to get back to the bunch.
62km remaining from 264km
Alessandro De Marchi has his hands over the hoods on the flat as he drives the peloton along, and when the road rises he powers out of the saddle. This pace seems to be putting a fair few riders in difficulty at the back of the bunch, and it's certainly making life difficult for Rui Costa, who's still trying to get back in the frame.
There are still over 5km before the next climb - the second ascent of the Loorberg. After that there's a 10km gap before the second time up the Gulpenberg before the Kruisberg. And that's where this race could really kick off, with the Eyserbosweg, Fromberg, and Keutenberg following in quick succession, before it's time for the final time up the Cauberg and penultimate time across the finish line for the race's denouement.
57km remaining from 264km
Alexey Lutsenko and Patrick Konrad are off the back after mechanicals and they'll have a hard time getting back in with BMC still drilling it on the front.
56km remaining from 264km
Grellier takes a flyer in the break, sensing that something needs to be done to stem the tide. Boom sets off in pursuit of the Direct Energie man.
Albanese is the next rider to go as the break hits the Loorberg, the 27th climb of the day.
Grellier leads the race while the attacks continue in the break behind. But the peloton are now just 20 seconds behind.
51km remaining from 264km
Most of the breakaway members are caught, but Grellier ploughs on alone, with a group of four behind him also trying to delay the inevitable.
48km remaining from 264km
Orica-Scott are up near the front with numbers.
They have options today. With Simon Gerrans, Michael Albasini, and former winner Roman Kreuziger, they can get creative and won’t be held back by the Gerrans-Matthews leadership tensions that arguably held them back here in the last couple of editions.
46km remaining from 264km
Gilbert makes his way to the front of the race. The favourites seem to be thinking about positioning now as Kwiatkowski also makes his way up the outside. Next up is the Gulpenberg.
44km remaining from 264km
Grellier hits the Gulpenberg with a lead of 13 seconds. This has been a good effort from the young Frenchman. The peloton have caught all the other breakaway men and it won't be long before it's all together again.
20 seconds over the top of the climb for Grellier as the peloton enjoys a moment of relative calm.
41km remaining from 264km
Grellier is about to be caught as he hits the flat
The pace ramps up once more in the peloton. Positioning on approach to the Kruisberg, with a tight left-hander, is going to be important.
40km remaining from 264km
Sergio Henao leads through that left-hander and he leads the bunch onto the Kruisberg.
It's 800m at 8.5%
Benoot attacks. Gilbert follows.
Henao also marks the move as Bert van Lindeman and Michael Albasini come up now.
Gilbert went early time and again over the cobbled classics, and that front group of six have opened up a very handy lead here.
Nathan Haas is the other rider in this front group of six.
Where is Greg Van Avermaet? The Belgian has hardly put a foot wrong all spring, but he missed the boat when QuickStep went on the Muur at Flanders, and Gilbert went on to win the race. More work to do for the BMC men, then.
Ion Izaguirre and JJ Rojas bridge up to the six leaders to make eight.
37km remaining from 264km
20 seconds for our leaders as they hit the Eyserbosweg. The Kruisberg has provided a really key moment in the complexion of this race.
A panicked look on the face of Van Avermaet in the chasing pack. Worrying times for Belgian.
Izaguirre comes to the front of the leading group. Great work from Bahrain to get him in there, with Colbrelli in the group behind.
This is a really dangerous move. The gap isn't huge but the group behind has thinned out massively, though the main pack of riders is getting back on to aid the chase.
33km remaining from 264km
Benoot dropped from the leading group.
Time for the Fromberg now. 16 seconds the gap.
So, out front we have:
Sergio Henao (Sky)
It was a mechanical that disrupted Benoot's progress. A shame, since the young Belgian was the man who lit this race up for the first time.
Wellens attacks. All is right with the world.
Kreuziger and Gasparotto, two former winners, have crashed heavily. That's game over for them.
29km remaining from 264km
The leading seven riders hit the Keutenberg. Wellens has them in his sights but his task has just got a whole lot tougher as the gradient ramps up
The chasing pack is closing in now. Less than 10 seconds is the gap.
Kwiatkowski is alongside Van Avermaet and the Pole accelerates away. He's looking very strong and could make it up to the front of the race.
Kwiatkowski makes it over. Van Avermaet couldn't get on board. Meanwhile Lindeman has been dropped from that lead group.
Van Avermaet forced to chase. He's in a group of four with Valverde, who hasn't come through for a turn yet, along with Fabio Felline and Tim Wellens.
27km remaining from 264km
Great work from Kwiatkowski to leave Valverde and Van Avermaet behind and make it to the front of the race. Henao will surely now bury himself for his teammate, a former winner.
Michael Matthews finds himself in a small group, the third group on the road.
Correction. It's Warren Barguil in that third group - not Matthews. He's with Rui Costa and Bob Jungels, and they're closing in on the Valverde/Van Avermaet/Wellens/Felline group.
That trio joins up with Van Avermaet et al, so we now have a proper chase group of seven riders. They're fighting against the lead group of seven, and the gap is currently 15 seconds.
The main bunch, or what's left of it, is 30 seconds back on the head of the race.
23km remaining from 264km
20 seconds is the gap now. This is a pretty even, and very fascinating match-up.
23km remaining from 264km
A few kilometres before we reach the Cauberg for the final time. Colbrelli and Matthews are in the main pack, just hoping this one can come back together.
You can see the situation over on the right of your screen, but here's how it stands.
7 leaders (Gilbert, Henao, Kwiatkowski, Izaguirre, Albasini, Rojas, Haas)
7 chasers (Valverde, Van Avermaet, Wellens, Barguil, Costa, Felline, Jungels)
Main pack (inc Matthews and Colbrelli)
19km remaining from 264km
Here comes the Cauberg.
Final time up the famous climb. The gap is over 30 seconds for our leaders.
The Kwiatkowski/Gilbert leading group extend their advantage on the climb. It's looking pretty good for them.
In the main pack Sunweb gather on the front before Matthews decides it's time for him to strike out and set about clawing himself back into contention.
@marijnfietst Sun, 16th Apr 2017 14:32:51
16km remaining from 264km
Through the finish line and there doesn't look to be enough cohesion in the chasing group. Van Avermaet is still working hard. Valverde and Jungels have excuses.
The main peloton of around 30 riders crosses the line. They're 1:05 down on the front of the race, and it seems two of the top favourites, Matthews and Colbrelli, won't be contesting the victory today.
@nyvelocity Sun, 16th Apr 2017 14:35:45
13km remaining from 264km
Onto the Geulhemmerberg for the leaders. This is the third ascent of this climb and it's the penultimate test of the day.
The chasers find 15 seconds on the leading group, bringing the gap back down to half a minute.
Valverde attacks! The Spaniard has Rojas up the road but is still keen to be up there himself.
The Valverde attack is short-lived.
Gilbert doing plenty of work up front. Henao also chipping in with big pulls. Sky are the only team here with two riders - it'll be interesting to see how they play this one tactically.
10km remaining from 264km
40 seconds is the gap now, going up once again.
Cannondale hit the front in what's left of the main pack. They're 1:20 in arrears, though, and that looks like a futile effort.
Van Avermaet looks tired as he takes a turn on the front, being forced to do the bulk of the work. The gap is back up at 45 seconds, and surely our winner will come from the front group of seven.
8km remaining from 264km
Just a couple of kilometres to go now until we hit the final climb of the day. It's the Bemeleberg for the second time today. Again, it's not a steep one but it's long enough for differences to be made. Five kilometres or so lie between the top and the finish line, with fair bit of that downhill.
Haas leads the group onto the Bemeleberg.
Gilbert is onto the wheel, but Kwiatkowski drives again.
Small cracks but no splits for now. It looks like Kwiatkowski and Gilbert are the strongest out there.
Gilbert attacks now!
Kwiatkowski goes with him, and the duo have a gap.
5km remaining from 264km
Gilbert and Kwiatkowski have a decent gap here. Izaguirre is the man who accepts the responsibility to chase.
And now Haas goes. Great acceleration from the Australian, but he locks up and can't quite finish it off.
4km remaining from 264km
Gilbert and Kwiatkowski slowly but surely extend their lead. It doesn't look like there's enough firepower among the chasers.
The main pack catches the Van Avermaet chase group, but that matters little at this point. Gilbert and Kwiatkowski have 13 seconds!
Rojas doesn't want to take a turn, Haas looks round for a hand, Albasini gives a half-hearted dig.
Gilbert and Kwiatkowski are going to slug this one out.
3km remaining from 264km
25 seconds now as Gilbert and Kwiatkowski continue to trade turns. The cat-and-mouse can wait.
2km remaining from 264km
Kwiatkowski is so canny in these situations and so zippy in these finishes, but we all know how strong Gilbert is this spring. This is going to be quite the finale.
1km remaining from 264km
The downhill comes to an end and the duo enters the final kilometre
Gilbert adjusts his shoes. Here we go.
The cat and mouse begins as Gilbert is on the front and Kwiatkowsi refuses to comes through.
Kwiatkowski remains locked on the wheel as Gilbert swerves across the road.
Kwiatkowski is just off the wheel but they're still soft-pedalling
Now Kwiatkowski opens it up!
Strong acceleration, but Gilbert is coming back...
Gilbert takes it!
Philippe Gilbert wins the Amstel Gold Race!
Wow. Kwiatkowski produced a strong sprint but it was perhaps a touch early, as Gilbert managed to get back on terms, and Kwiatkowski had nothing left when the Belgian came past.
The Philippe Gilbert renaissance continues apace. Remarkable stuff.
Albasini won the sprint for third place in the group behind.
1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors 06:33:55
2 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky 00:00:00
3 Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica-Scott 00:00:10
4 Nathan Haas (Aus) Dimension Data 00:00:10
5 Jose Rojas (Spa) Movistar 00:00:10
6 Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky 00:00:10
7 Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida 00:00:14
8 Michael Gogl (Aut) Trek-Segafredo 00:01:10
9 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida 00:01:11
10 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb 00:01:11
Gilbert speaks to the TV cameras ahead of his trip to the podoium
“It was a hard final. We went from the Kruisberg, it was a long long move again. All of us deserved the win today because we really worked together. In the end there’s only one winner, but we did nice work together in the last 40km. In the end with Kwiato we went hard, I saw the guys behind were on the limit – I was too but if you can find one or two per cent more it makes the difference. I told him, ‘we ride until the last k and the best man wins’ – that’s the best deal you can make.
“He surprised me a little in the sprint, but it was a headwind so I didn’t panic, and I saw I was getting closer and closer, and it was perfect for me in the end.”
Gilbert wins the bike race, then wins the beer drinking contest, seeing off his Amstel on the podium in half the time of Kwiatkowski and Albasini.
Four times a winner at the Amstel Gold Race
Here's our full report, with full results and plenty of photos for you.
Want to see exactly how that played out? We've already got video highlights for you.
@CafeRoubaix Sun, 16th Apr 2017 15:58:54
We've also got a full report, results, and photos from the women's Amstel Gold Race, which took place earlier today. Here it is:
@MRasmussen1974 Sun, 16th Apr 2017 15:10:25
That's it for our live coverage today. And what a day it was. Amstel genuinely produced a quality race. With this latest route change, you could say the organisers have struck... gold (Sorry, that's what nine hours of live blogging does to you).
Anyway, hope you enjoyed it. A reminder that you can find our full report here, and our video highlights here. Keep an eye on Cyclingnews.com over the coming hours for all the news and reaction from the race. Thanks for joining us today - see you on Wednesday for Fleche Wallonne!
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