With the Tour of Lombardy and the Amstel Gold in his pocket from his last six month’s work, he doesn’t need to be embarrassed about that ‘Little Prince’ nickname any more.
In the last hour it looked like Gerolsteiner’s water boys, 2007 Amstel winner Stefan Schumacher and 2008 Paris – Nice winner, Davide Rebellin had the right cards to play in the finale, but the best they could do was place ‘Tin Tin’ in fourth as Cunego gratefully accepted Frank Schleck’s long, long lead-out, past huge crowds up the gruelling Cauberg climb to the line.
For a moment it looked like the ‘Green Bullet’ – Caisse d’Epargne’s Alejandro Valverde was going to surprise everyone, but his was the third spot on the podium as he couldn’t find that extra gear a classic win needs; despite his team mate, Spanish Champion Joaquin Rodriguez working like a Trojan for him on the run-in.
On the subject of hard work, if there was a prize for watts expended, it would have to go to Rabobank’s Robert Gesink.He was always in the mix on the climbs and tried his hardest to drag team mate, Oscar Freire back to the leaders when they both missed the decisive move of the day which came on the Keutenberg climb with only a dozen-or-so kilometres to go.
Rabobank had worked hard all day, conscious – perhaps too conscious – of the weight of expectation from the adoring Dutch fans; but Thomas Dekker in fifth was as good as they could muster.
The road sign at the Keutenberg said 22% but the faces of the likes of Philippe Gilbert, Alessandro Ballan, Nick Nuyens and Sylvain Chavanel said; ‘it’s finished! It was apparent that the winner would come from this group, desperate riding from Rodriguez and proximity to the finish would see to that.
As Scottish ex-pro Billy Bilsland always says; ‘the race is about the last hour’ and so it proved as the day long break of Kristof Vandewalle (Topsport Vlaanderen), Albert Timmer (Skil Shimano) and Yuri Krivtsov (AG2R) was caught with around the magic 60 minutes to ride, after having enjoyed the safest passage of the day through the speed bumps, bollards, roundabouts and chicanes which make this such a dangerous race.
Their lead reached a maximum 12 minutes and their DS’s will be happy with the TV exposure. Approaching climbs like the Gulperberg there was the whiff of panic as riders battled for position, so as not to get traffic-jammed on the steep, narrow roads. Despite the bunch getting thinner on each climb, there were regroupments after each savage ascent and the bunch was still of respectable proportions when the Eyserbosweg was reached at 18 k to go.
An attack here by tall, handsome Silence Lotto Belgian strongman, Johan Van Summeren and sturdy Luxemburger Kim Kirchen (High Road) had the look of success, until Kirchen cracked and the appearance of ‘Tin Tin’ reminded us that the big guns were still held in reserve.
Next to go was Russian Sergei Ivanov, revelling in his Astana squad getting into a ‘big’ race, and he used that neat Russian TTT style of his to good effect. Barloworld’s Christian Pfannberger laboured his Austrian champion’s jersey across the gap and again it looked good as they hurtled past ploughed fields and pasture land.
The Keutenberg was too much of an obstacle though, and over the top the cream finally came to the surface as Cunego, Schleck, his CSC team mate Karsten Kroon, Valverde, Rodriguez, Rebellin, Dekker and Cunego joined the two desperados. ‘Tin Tin’ attacked with maybe six to go, but with two CSC and two Caisse on his case that didn’t look likely and they were all together as they hit the red kite – and the Cauberg.
Cunego and Kroon showed early, but not for real, and it was Frank Schleck who dumped the extra fuel into the burners first.
Cunego was on him – pronto, and was confident enough to play a waiting game.
When he did go, he opened four or five lengths in less time than it takes to type the words;
Schleck could only bang his bars in disgust, whilst Valverde didn’t seem too unhappy with third.
And the Fleche? Rebellin!
Results 2008 Amstel Gold Race
1. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre 6.35.29 (39.051 km/h)
2. Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC
3. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0.02
4. Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
5. Thomas Dekker (Ned) Rabobank 0.06
6. Christian Pfannberger (Aut) Barloworld 0.14
7. Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Astana 0.18
8. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0.23
9. Karsten Kroon (Ned) Team CSC 0.27
10. Jйrфme Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 0.45