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After Gilbert and Matthews had escaped on the Cauberg, a 20-rider group gathered to sprint for the win, with Kwiatkowski powering clear to conquer his first classic; Valverde and Matthews completed the podium

Photo: Sirotti

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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AMSTEL GOLD RACE

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MICHAEL MATTHEWS

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MICHAL KWIATKOWSKI

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19.04.2015 @ 17:41 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) took his first win in the rainbow jersey and his first victory in a major classic when he emerged as the strongest in the 50th edition of the Amstel Gold Race. Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) had gone clear on the Cauberg but as they failed to cooperate, a 20-rider group gathered and here it was the world champion who powered clear to beat Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Matthews in the sprint.

 

Going into the Amstel Gold Race, Michal Kwiatkowski had made it clear that the rainbow jersey had made him a marked man which had made it hard for him to take his first road race win in 2015. However, he hoped to change things around in the Ardennes classics which are his first big goals of the year, and he hoped that more maturity would pay off in the 50th edition of the Amstel Gold Race

 

Today his dreams were fulfilled when he emerged as the strongest from a 20-rider group that sprinted for the win at the top of the Cauberg climb. Despite being far back at the start of the sprint, the Pole turned out to be in a class of his own and easily distanced renowned sprinters Alejandro Valverde and Michael Matthews.

 

All day Etixx-QuickStep had done things perfectly to set their leader up for the win. On the Eyserbosweg with 40km to go, a very dangerous group with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Damiano Caruso (BMC) and Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE) had escaped and the Belgian team had been wise and strong enough to place Tony Martin in the move.

 

For a while, it seemed that the group could create a surprise as only Movistar were chasing but when Caruso crashed out of the group, BMC came to the fore and managed to bring things back together with 10km to go. The American team made sure to have riders covering all late attacks and so no one managed to prevent the favourites from battling it out on the Cauberg.

 

Going down the final descent, Orica-GreenEDGE moved to the front to set things up for Matthews. First Clarke took a huge turn before Michael Albasini took over. Simon Gerrans was the consummate teammate, doing a solid pull, before Pieter Weening led the 50-rider group and his captain onto the famous Cauberg.

 

Here BMC used last year’s strategy as Ben Hermans attacked right from the bottom. The Belgian was joined by Maciej Paterski (CCC) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) and the trio got a small gap before the latter got distanced.

 

Meanwhile, Philippe Gilbert readied himself for his big attack and when he dropped the hammer, he quickly passed the fading duo. He managed to distance almost all the pre-race favourites except an impressive Matthews who stayed glued to his wheel. The Australian briefly seemed to get dropped but just in that moment, Gilbert sat down and even though he tried to accelerate again, the duo were together when they crested the summit.

 

Kwiatkowski had tried to join the pair but he had faded and now found himself in a group with Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty), Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) and Valverde. The Spaniard managed to bridge the gap to the two leaders who failed to cooperate and soon after Kwiatkowski, Gasparotto and Caruso also made the junction.

 

Further back, a bigger group was chasing and they caught the leaders with 1.5km to go. This opened the door for new attacks and Gasparotto and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) were among the riders to give it a try. However, BMC had strength in numbers and so Hermans hit the front to keep it together for a sprint.

 

Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) hit out early but he was passed by Greg Van Avermaet who seemed to be riding away with the win. However, Kwiatkowski found a gap despite being positioned far back and he powered clear to take a comfortable win while Valverde and Matthews had to be content with podium spots.

 

Kwiatkowski will try to continue his run of classics success on Wednesday when he lines up for the Fleche Wallonne where he finished third last year. The next major race in the Netherlands is the Ster ZLM Toer in June.

 

A hilly course

The 50th edition of the Amstel Gold Race was held on a very classic 258km courset hat brought the riders from the start in centre of Maastricht to a finish in Berg en Terblijt on the outskirts of Valkenburg. As usual, the route zigzagged its way through the Limburg region and the riders had to cover no less than 34 short, steep climbs along the way. The landmark climb of Cauberg featured on the course four times with the penultimate passage coming after the key climbs of the Eyserbosweg and Keutenberg with 20.3km to go. From there the riders did a circuit with the climbs of Geulhemmerberg and Bemelerberg before they went up the Cauberg for the final time. For the third year in a row, the start line was located 1.8km from the top.

 

There were two non-starters when the peloton left Maastricht under a beautiful sunny sky this morning. The IAM riders Dries Devenyns who is suffering from back pain, and Thomas Degand who is suffering from gastroenteritis, failed to make it to the start of the Dutch classic.

 

The break is formed

The rest of the peloton got the race off to their usual very fast start with lots of attacks. Wout Poels (Sky) was one of the early riders to give it a go when he attacked on the first climb of the Slingerberg but he was quickly brought back and after 10km of racing, it was all together.

 

On the third climb of the Lange Raarberg, Lars Boom (Astana) and Sjoerd van Ginneken (Roompot) tried to get clear but the attentive peloton quickly shut it down. Finally, the elastic snapped when Laurens De Vreese (Astana), Jan Polanc (Lampre-Merida), Timo Roosen (LottoNL-Jumbo), Linus Gerdemann (Cult), Johann van Zyl (MTN-Qhubeka) and Mike Terpstra (Roompot) got an advantage of 15 seconds after 28km of racing.

The gap grows

The peloton finally slowed down and even though BMC, Katusha and Etixx-QuickStep patrolled the front of the peloton, they didn’t organize a chase. At the 44km mark, the gap was 4.22 and it was still growing.

 

As they approached the 60km mark, the gap had reached more than 6 minutes which was also the case when the escapees crested the summit of the Cauberg for the first time. After 65km of racing, it was 8.12 and this was the signal for BMC and CCC to slightly up the pace but as they went through the feedzone, it was already more than 10 minutes.

 

The chase gets organized

Now the chase got a bit more organized as Nippo-Vini Fantini, BMC and Movistar started to work.  After 107km of racing, they had brought the gap down to 8.20 and when they entered the final 150km, it was only 6.54.

 

With 130km to go, a big crash brought down a few riders, including Dennis Vanendert (Lotto Soudal), but everyone was able to get back on the bike. Meanwhile, Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar) and Marcus Burghardt (BMC) were working hard in the peloton to stabilize the gap which was down to 7 minutes with 107km to go.

 

Puncture for Nibali

With 100km to go, a small crash brought down Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal) and Zico Waeytens (Giant-Alpecin) while a suffering Lieuwe Westra (Astana) was distanced and had to abandon. Meanwhile, Sütterlin and Burghardt had upped the pace and as they went over the Cauberg for the second time, the gap was down to 6 minutes.

 

Nibali suffered a puncture but was quickly escorted back to the peloton which was 5 minutes back as they went up the Geulhemmerberg with 85km to go. 5km later, Orica-GreenEDGE started to chase as Christian Meier joined forces with Burghardt and Sütterlin.

 

Mechanical for Kreuziger

With 73km to go, the two Germans finished their work and instead Imanol Erviti started to work with Meier for Movistar. Their fast pace had brought the gap down to 3.10 with 68km to go and now the fight for position was getting intense.

 

An impressive Burghardt managed to get back to the front to do some work for BMC while Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) fought his way back from a mechanical. Meanwhile, Erviti blew up and left it to Rory Sutherland to work for Movistar.

 

A fight for position

With 55km to go, the gap was down to 1.30 and now there was no longer an organized chase. Instead, it was a huge fight for position, with Nick van der Lijke (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Martin being among the riders to take turns on the front.

 

On the Gulpenerberg, the gap was down to 55 seconds and this prompted Polanc to up the pace. Terpstra and Roosen were the first to get distanced and moments later van Zyl also lost contact. Meanwhile, the peloton slowed down and it was Silvan Dillier (BMC), Burghardt and Martin who led the bunch up the climb.

 

Bad luck for Valverde

BMC were now in complete control before the fight for position again intensified. Meanwhile, the front trio had managed to reopen their advantage to 1.05.

 

Valverde had to fight his way back to the front after an untimely mechanical and a little later Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) had similar misfortune. As they hit the Kruisberg, Roosen and Terpstra were caught and moments later van Zyl was also back in the fold while Martin led the peloton up the climb.

 

Tanner starts the attacking

As they hit the key climb of the Eyserbosweg, the gap was down to just 15 seconds and it was Burghardt who led the peloton onto the climb. Here David Tanner (IAM) started the attacking and he was quickly joined by Clarke.

 

The pair bridged the gap to the leaders while Gerdemann was dropped. He fell back to a chase group that included Martin, Alex Howes (Cannondale) and Damiano Caruso. On the descent, Diego Rosa (Astana) joined the chasers and later Nibali and Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) also made it across.

 

Disaster for Kelderman

Robert Kiserlovski (Tinkoff-Saxo) was the only rider chasing in the peloton and so the gaps quickly grew. He got a bit of help from Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) but for a long time, he was riding alone on the front.

 

Disaster struck for Kelderman who missed a turn on a descent and so dropped out of the chase group. He also made the junction on the Keutenberg with 30km to go but he never made it.

 

Movistar start to chase

On the steep climb, De Vreese and Polanc lost contact with the leaders while Gerdemann was dropped from the chase group. De Vreese fell all the way back to the peloton while Polanc managed to hang onto the chasers.

 

With 30km to go, the gap was 55 seconds and now Movistar finally started to chase with Jose Joaquin Rojas and Gorka Izagirre. At this point, the situation changed dramatically as Rosa and Caruso crashed out of the break while Polanc got dropped. Nibali, Martin and Howes joined Tanner and Clarke but with Caruso no longer in the break, Dylan Teuns started to chase for BMC with Rojas and Izagirre.

 

Tanner drops off

Nibali and Tanner both made small attacks but the front quintet was back together when they hit the Cauberg for the third time with a 35-second advantage. Here Howes got dropped while Silvan Dillier and Teuns worked hard for BMC.

 

Dillier and Teuns brought the gap down to 15 seconds as they crossed the line for the penultimate time. When they hit the Geulhemmerberg, it was only 10 seconds and this prompted Nibali to attack, with Tanner getting distanced.

 

Clarke takes off

Nibali and Martin failed to cooperate and so Clarke decided to take off. Meanwhile, Dillier and Teuns were stilling working strongly and with 13km to go, they brought Martin and Nibali back.

 

Van Avermaet upped the pace on the Bemelerberg with 8km to go and as they crested the summit, Clarke was caught. That was the signal for Fuglsang to attack and he was joined by Van Avermaet and Nathan Haas (Cannondale).

 

Tinkoff-Saxo start to chase

The Australian dropped back to a chase group with Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep), Michael Valgren (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Alberto Losada (Katusha) and they were joined by Albasini and Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty). However, Rafael Valls was now chasing for Lampre-Merida and the chasers were caught with 6km to go.

 

Fuglsang didn’t get any help from Van Avermaet and as Tinkoff-Saxo started to chase with Manuele Boaro, Kiserlovski and Chris Anker Sørensen, the duo quickly lost ground. Mirko Selvaggi (Wanty) and Hermans managed to bridge the gap but with 4km to go, Boaro had brought it back together. That’s when Orica-GreenEDGE moved to the front to start the exciting finale.

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