Czech rider Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) caught many by surprise with his solo ride to victory at the opening race of the Ardennes week, the Amstel Gold. Jumping over to the leaders on the penultimate time up the Cauberg, he showed his class and current form by dropping his breakaway companions with 9 kilometres to go to the finish.
Many thought that Peter Sagan (Cannondale) was the man to watch, which led to much hesitation from the peloton when entering the new finishing loop added to the parcours. Kreuziger, who throughout his career has promised much, finally fulfilled his potential, surviving a late and very strong attack from Philippe Gilbert (BMC) on the final climb of the Cauberg.
Kreuziger said “The race plan was to ride hard today, with both myself and Nicki Sorensen as protected riders. The team rode really well for us all day. The final time up the Cauberg all I could here were people shouting my name, and when I made it to the top I knew I had to dig deep to make it to the finish.”
An initial early break of 7 riders got up to 11 minutes in front of the peloton before the big teams went to the front to work for their leaders. As predicted the sinuous route at Amstel Gold would be dangerous, with numerous crashes taking place in the final 100 kilometres of racing. Notably Gilbert crashing and having to chase back with 90 kilometres to the finish, the same crash saw French rider Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar) taken to hospital with a suspected broken collarbone.
As the kilometres to the finish ticked down, the gap to the leaders reduced seeing the breakaway riders splitting, with Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel) eventually going solo. Coming into the Gulpenerburg Rodriguez was caught in a crash, seeing him limping about in pain, which could be the end of his Ardennes campaign.
In the final 20 kilometres the race began in earnest with BMC sat on the front of the peloton, after a small group of leaders had gone clear. Kreuziger, attacked hard and made the junction with them at the top of the Cauberg. Then, forcing the pace over the top of the Belmerberg, he went clear. Behind, the favourites were waiting for the final time up the Cauberg. They underestimated the strength of the Czech rider who had time to celebrate his victory before the finish.
Gilbert’s late attack took Gerrans (Orica Greenedge) and Valverde (Movistar) clear of the bunch. They hesitated in the final kilometre, which almost saw them swamped by a hard chasing, yet very reduced peloton.
Of note, grand favourite Sagan did not have the form for his final race of the spring, seeing him dropped on the final ascent of the Cauberg.
1: Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Team Saxo-Tinkoff
2: Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
3: Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
4: Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
5: Gianni Meersman (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
6: Pieter Weening (Ned) Orica-GreenEdge
7: Björn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
8: Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana Pro Team
9: Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Katusha
10: Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Garmin-Sharp
Author: Phil Gale