With two Gerolsteiners in the final selection, it was obvious they would work the, ‘one-two’ and as the shaven-headed 2006 maglia rosa-wearer made his move, five of the best riders in the world sat and looked at each other. Eventually, fellow-German Matthias Kessler (Astana) reacted but it was too late, Schumacher finished on his own and Gerolsteiner completed their lesson in tactics as ‘oldie but goody’, Italian Davide Rebellin, winner in 2004, grabbed second place to make it a good day for the marketing men at the German mineral water company.
Third place on the podium went to another previous winner (2005) Danilo Di Luca (Italy & Liquigas) – whose face on the podium told us all we needed to know about what he thought of third place.
The inevitable “early break” went at around 40 k, not any easy manoeuvre, given that 47 kilometres rolled below the wheels of the bunch in the first hour; Olivier Bonnaire (Bouygues), Tom Stubbe (Chocolade Jacques), Daniel Musiol (Wiesenhof), Piet Rooijakkers (Skil) and Nick Ingels (Lotto) were the ‘wanted men.’ The five worked smoothly together and the lead reached a maximum of around eight minutes, but by the famous Cauberg for the second ascent, with 75 K to go, Ingels had gone.
As the final hour approached, it was Caisse D’Epargne – for Valverde and Liquigas – for Di Luca who were doing the work and as the gap came down to the two minute mark, CSC got involved and the demise of the quartet was inevitable.
Meanwhile, huge crowds basked in Mediterranean heat on all of the 31 climbs and dreamed of the party a ‘Boogie’ win would spark. As the gap came-down to bridgeable proportions, around the 40 to go mark, Jens Voigt (Germany & CSC), Daniele Righi (Italy & Lampre) and the resurgent Steffen Wesemann (Germany & Wiesenhof) blasted across to make the junction, only Rooijakkers could live with his new neighbours; the other three exploded as Voigt turned-on the pain.
Pain was meanwhile being dispensed to another CSC rider at the rear of the field as last year’s winner, Frank Schleck (Luxembourg) hit the tarmac, looking stunned, he did well to chase back through the convoy. Despite being concerned about his protйgй, Riis did not have any one drop back to assist – not with Voigt up the road. Rooijakker disappeared as yet another berg reared, Voigt and Wesemann were driving hard but a vigilant bunch was not letting the elastic stretch too much.
Rabobank had been conspicuous by their absence from the action, ‘keeping their powder dry’ (copyright Dave Duffield) perhaps for a ‘Boogie’ win some eight years after the first – but as the finale loomed the Orangemen became much more visible.
Into the last half hour of racing, a clutch of riders bridged-across to the Voigt group and the impetus was gone, QuickStep’s Spaniard, Carlos Barredo countered but the bunch didn’t look too concerned, there was no real bite in the move. Wide main roads gave way to narrow lanes and on the Kruisberg climb; number 27 of the 31; Astana rode tempo as a steady stream of riders slipped off the back. Parked cars made the little roads off the Kruisberg even-more dangerous just before the next climb with 20 K to go.
World champion, Paolo Bettini (Italy & QuickStep), ‘Boogie’, previous winner, Rebellin (Italy & Gerolsteiner) and his German team mate, Schumacher were all to the fore – with the German forcing the move through beautiful rolling farm land, ex-T-Mobile stalwart, Matthias Kessler (Germany & Astana) got up too – making five in the lead.
On the small unfenced farm roads and as the finish loomed ever-closer another three bridged-up: hot-favourite Alejandro Valverde (Spain & Caisse D’Epargne), previous winner Danilo Di Luca (Italy & Liquigas) and Fabian Wegmann (Switzerland & Gerolsteiner).
With eight kilometres to go these riders, less a suffering Wegmann had 50 seconds advantage – this was the winning-move of seven, no question. As the others eyed each other, Schumacher jumped inside the last two kilometres and had 10 seconds at the flame rouge; as the rest dithered, the gap grew and Schumacher was home-free rolling a big gear up the Cauberg to the finish – and a pay-raise.
Kessler had jumped to try and get to the his countryman, but it was not to be, as Gerolsteiner made it a one-two with 2004 winner, Rebellin earning the right to stand beside his team mate on the podium A disgusted Di Luca took third, Kessler was fourth and there was no fairy tale ending for Boogerd in his twelfth and final Amstel – fifth, Valverde was sixth and Bettini seventh – but watch for that cricket at Liege, guys!
1 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner
2 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
3 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas
4 Matthias Kessler (Ger) Astana
5 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank
6 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
7 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quickstep-Innergetic
8 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
9 Frдnk Schleck (Lux) Team CSC
10 Riccardo Riccт (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir