A wasted Rodriguez hung on for second as a resurgent Simon Gerrans (Sky & Australia) grabbed the last podium spot.
A last look back… who’s with me…? Of course, no one!
There were four in the break of the day; Thomas Degand (Verandas Willems & Belgium), Albert Timmer (Skil & Holland), Paolo de Negri (Farnese Vini & Italy) and Simoni Ponzi (Liquigas & Italy) – they absconded some 60 kilometres into the day and reached a maximum advantage of around 12 minutes after 100 kilometres with the peloton enjoying the sunshine; the reaction eventually coming from Rabobank and Leopard.
Timmer and Ponzi called ‘time’ before the peloton snuffed them out, but Degand and de Negri persisted to be joined by Carlos Barredo (Rabobank & Spain) and Jan Ghyselinck (HTC & Belgium) with some 60 K to go.
And that was how it stood approaching the last hour, four men clear with a one minute advantage.
The start from Maastricht’s main square is as picturesque you can get.
Barredo’s intention was clear – to provide a platform for one of Rabo’s heavy weapons to fire from – Gesink? Sanchez?
The last hour would tell.
Behind it was Lotto providing the tempo as the four fugitives took full advantage of the sinuous roads with their high grassy banks to try and keep it ‘out of sight, out of mind.’
Behind the Lottos, Vacansoleil and Liquigas hovered; whilst up front Degand’s rocking shoulders told the story of a man close to the edge as the gap dropped to 50 seconds.
With 45 K to go the gap was 45 seconds as the peloton did it’s best to duck through the traffic calming islands in one piece.
The 24th climb of the day, with 42 K to go, the Wolfsberg and it was Vacansoleil who took the gap down to 30 seconds; and on climb 25, the Loorberg with 35 K to go, it was all over for the break.
Andy Schleck laid out a solid move, but was in the end no match for master tactician Gilbert.
It was ‘compatto’ and ‘piano’ approaching the Gulperberg with 28 K to go with the Boss back at PEZ HQ wondering when the race was going to start?
Over the ramp of the Gulperberg it was Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil & Holland) providing the answer with a big attack as Swiss champion Martin Elmiger (AG2R & Switzerland) and a half dozen others joined him – but none had Johnny’s commitment and the move was still born.
Hill 27 was the Kruisberg with 22 K to go and again it was ‘tranquilo’ on the approach – the inevitable crashes ensued; Cancellara being one of those who hit the deck.
On the climb it was Lotto setting the tempo as Frank Schleck’s Trek died on him – the rear deraileur ending up in line with the seat stay.
Off the climb, Home Boy Bram Tankink (Rabobank) diced with the motor bikes on the technical descent but to no avail as Leopard rode tempo with 20 K to go on the Eyserbosweg.
A dig over the top by Russian champion Aleksandr Kolobnev (Katusha) sparked the split which looked like ‘the one’ – there were perhaps 20 clear with last year’s winner Philippe Gilbert (Lotto & Belgium) in there as the Fromberg came and went as climb 29 – just two to go.
Lotto’s Belgian Tour de France challenger, Jurgen Van Den Broeck was providing the power for Gilbert group with less than 10 miles to go – narrow roads and bad bends made it very difficult to organize a chase behind and this lead group was indeed ‘the one.’
The penultimate joust with gravity was the Keutenberg, hill 30 and 12 K to go – Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha & Spain) attacked but the horse power wasn’t there.
257 km down, one to go, it’s all come down to the next few seconds.
On the plateau over the top it was Andy Schleck (Leopard & Luxembourg) making the move with 11 K to go; behind it was Gilbert doing the work himself as Rabobank and Katusha observed.
Schleck’s lead was nine seconds with eight kilometres to go as finally Vacansoleil realized that if they didn’t contribute, then the race was for second place – five seconds with seven K to go was the gap.
Rabobank were contributing little – but they had Spanish flyer Oscar Freire in the group with them. . .
With the Cauberg looming and Schleck still clear it was Gilbert burning way too much gas at the front of the chasers.
And surely Gilbert had done too much . . .
Andy was swamped; Rodriguez tried hard; Gerrans was dogged.
He stayed near the front, matched Rodriguez, picked his spot then exploded to victory.
On this form, the treble of Ardennes Classics is possible.
Results: 2011 Amstel Gold Race
1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
2. Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
3. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Sky Procycling
4. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek
5. Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Katusha Team
6. Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team
7. Bjцrn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
8. Ben Hermans (Bel) Team RadioShack
9. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
10. Paul Martens (Ger) Rabobank Cycling Team