Most eyes were looking at Peter Sagan and World champion Philippe Gilbert to take the victory, but like last year there is always the chance of a surprise winner; Astana’s Enrico Gasparotto. Sagan was third and was said to be quite upset and gunning for the win this year and of course we know Gilbert won the 2012 World’s on this finish line which has been moved to just under two kilometres past the top of the Cauberg. Plus there is now a finish circuit that takes in the Geulhemmerberg and then the Bemerlerberg before the Cauberg, giving thirty four brutal ascents in the race, three more than last year to make for a very taxing race.
And They’re Off!
The weather for the race, based in Maastricht, was to be warm and sunny, but there were some rain showers on the course but before all that it was left to ex multi-champion Francesco Moser to fire the start pistol and get things going. The action wasn’t long in happening with Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp) instigating the first break of the day after about 30 minutes of racing. He was joined by Tim De Troyer (Accent Jobs-Wanty), Alexandre Pliuschin (IAM Cycling), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Arthur Van Overberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise); they were chased by Klaas Sys (Crelan-Euphony) and Nicolas Vogondy (Accent Jobs-Wanty).
Through the finish line for the first time with 190 kilometres to go, the gap was ten and a half minutes and Sys & Vogondy had made the bridge. Behind; Cannondale and Blanco were riding tempo on the front of the bunch. At the end of 100 kilometres of racing; the lead was 11 minutes and Cannondale were in control for Peter Sagan.
The Half Way Point
By mid way of the 251 kilometre race the gap was stable at just over 10 minutes as they tackled the fifteenth climb of the day, the Eperheide.
Cannondale put a bit of pressure on the peloton climbing the Gulperberg and the lead was down to 9 minutes with 100 kilometres to go.
As usual there were a few crashes on the narrow roads, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) was caught up in one of the bigger falls and needed a new bike as the peloton took to the grass fields. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was said to have been taken to hospital with a possible broken shoulder. The speed lifted and Gilbert was in trouble trying to chase back on, with him was Andy Schleck (RadioShack Leopard). With the help of the team car he made contact with the back split of the bunch after a hectic chase with 86 kilometres to go as the leaders hit the Cauberg for the first time the lead came down to 7:25 to about 20 riders being powered by Blanco (Lars Boom) and 7:55 to the BMC led chasers for Gilbert.
At the 79 kilometre to go mark the peloton was all together, this took the sting out of the chase, but Movistar was still keen to keep the pace high with Blanco in close attendance.
Through the 75 kilometre to go feed the gap had came down to 7:25, the leaders were all working well together, nobody was missing a turn, but they were a few K’s per hour slower than the peloton. More teams were sending riders forward to help the chase, Katusha helping Movistar to bring the lead to 5:20 at 67 kilometres out. Lars Boom sat up at the back of the bunch looking like he was giving up after his hard work of earlier in the day, he yoyo’d for a little, but his skin suit and aero helmet didn’t help him much.
The peloton was drawn into one long line through the flat section of the circuit by Katusha, but Sky, Movistar and Blanco were not far from the front. Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp) and Mikel Astarloza stretched their legs on one of the long climbs, splitting the group. Alexandre Pliuschin (IAM Cycling) managed to cross to them and the others fell by the wayside as they came to the last 50 kilometres, the lead was now 3:14.
Orica-GreenEdge was next to take up the work as they put four riders on the front coming to the Gulpenerberg again with seven climbs to go before the last attack of the Cauberg. Up the Gulpenerberg and Astarloza didn’t wait for the others and went for a long solo ride. In the bunch there was another crash, this time the big name was Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), he remounted, but didn’t ride far before it looked obvious that his race was over.
Coming into the last 42K’s Astarloza’s lead was 2:38 on what was left of the main bunch (maybe around 50-60 riders), with Vansummeren and Pliuschin in between as all the other break-away riders were consumed by the chasers led by BMC. At the top of the Eyserbosweg (38K to the finish), Astarloza only had 1:47 as Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) attacked from behind with this splitting the bunch a little, bringing the main group down to around 40 riders.
30 Kilometres to the Line
Up the steep Keutenberg; Astarloza still led by 1:52 as Weening shot past Vansummeren and Pliuschin, Blanco put David Tanner and Lars Petter Nordhaug off the front with Andrei Grivko (Astana) along with them, Pliushin managed to hang on, but Vansummeren was finished. Weening waited for the others to give us; Weening, Pliuschin, Tanner, Nordhaug and Grivko chasing Astarloza, with Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) between bunch and chasers and the gap was 50 seconds as they hit the Cauberg with 20 kilometres to go.
Through the finish line at 18 kilometres, it was Astarloza with 30 seconds on a split chase and the bunch was at 58 seconds with Cunego’s attack coming to nothing.
Astarloza was caught by six riders; Grivko, Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha), Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff), Nordhaug, Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Weening, the bunch hoovered up all the other chasers, Omega Pharma – Quick-Step took control of the bunch.
The Cauberg Finish in 10 Kilometres
Onto the Bemerlerberg and Grivko attacked, this shed Astarloza and Marcato. Towards the top Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) attacked the bunch as Kreuziger did the same to the leaders followed by Nordhaug. Caruso, Grivko and Weening couldn’t get it together to chase and Kreuziger made the most of his move.
At the bottom of the Cauberg for the last time Kreuziger still had a good gap and must have had his team on the edge of the car seats. World champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) kicked hard on the climb with Alejendro Valverde (Movistar) trying to go with him and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) on his wheel. In the last flat kilometre Roman Kreuziger had enough of a lead to stay solo to the finish for what many thought a surprise win, Gilbert was marked on the run in and Valverde, Gerrans and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) passed him on the line pushing the world champ down to fifth.
A surprise maybe for Kreuziger, but well deserved.
Amstel Gold Race Result:
1. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Team Saxo-Tinkoff in 6:35:21
2. Alejandro Valverdo Belmonte (Spa) Movistar at 0:22
3. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
4. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step
5. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC
6. Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky
7. Björn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM
8. Pieter Weening (Ned) Orica-GreenEdge
9. Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana
10. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Blanco
11. Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Katusha
12. Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Garmin-Sharp
13. Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Belisol
14. Nicki Sörensen (Den) Saxo-Tinkoff
15. Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Blanco.