I’d never argue this vehemently, but the best seven days of cycling in the calendar just arrived and they delivered on Day 1. Today, Amstel Gold, the biggest single day race in the Dutch Calendar, served up an exciting and surprising result. With the podium gals prepping for a flirtatious encounter with wonder-boy Peter Sagan, the other hilly classics guys needed not sandbag to divert attention from themselves. Certainly, Sagan came into the race as the heavy favorite having placed third here last year and blowing the doors off the competition thus far in 2013, but we need not discount the fastest of the fast uphill finishers; Gilbert, Gerrans, Valverde, J-Rod, Gasparotto, Henao and many others had been fine tuning their form for the now longer and flatter sprint finish after Amstel’s iconic Cauberg climb.
The early break got things heated up and tense for sometime as they built up a 7 minute lead on a lazy peloton. With temperatures above 20 degrees, it’s possible the boys were enjoying the sun a little too much as Mikel Astarloza, Johan Van Summeran and their 5 break buddies rode away from the group. It wasn’t until about 60km remaining that the peloton started to look a little concerned with the gap, so Katusha and Movistar started turning things a little tighter to close it down.
When BMC’s Burghardt hit the Cauberg for the penultimate ascent, the peloton had caught the shrapnel from the break but still had the persistent Astarloza at the top of the climb looking down on them with only a little wobble in his legs. It was with that reality facing the group that guys got restless and one after another, in no particular order, Lars Peter Nordhaug, Roman Kreuziger, Peter Weening, David Tanner and Andrey Grivko shot off on the hunt, not only for Astarloza, but more importantly sensing that an opportunity for the win was existent.
As the peloton kept its powder dry for the final Cauberg ascent former winner Damiano Cunego thought the jig was up and he blasted off after the aggressors. Ryder Hesjedal followed suit shortly after as he too believed that front group, who had now gained Astarloza, had the chance.
In the front group however, the harmony wasn’t there and hesitation would cost them. Kreuziger was quick to act as he sensed the eyes were starting to drift from focusing on the goal, to one another and he took off alone. It wasn’t long before Hesjedal had made it across to find Kreuziger was up the road another 20+ seconds with the peloton now hammering hard behind, the Canadian knew he was stuck helplessly between the fox and the hounds.
Kreuziger was two-thirds of the way up the Cauberg by the time Gilbert, Gerrans and Valverde blasted past the remnants of the selection, with everone else, including Peter Sagan blown out the back, but could they close the gap? When the road flattened out, Kreuziger had time to look back and see an abyss between him and the three fast finishers. The race went to Saxo-Bank as the peloton sorted in time to close toward the next three. Valverde, edged Gerrans for second and Gilbert finished fifth as Kwiatkowski and the rest of a strong group surged to almost snatch the final podium places.
Wednesday brings Fleche-Wallone and the finish on the Muur de Huy which would be tailor made for defending champ Joaquim Rodriguez if he starts as he, Thomas Voeckler (who broke his collar bone) and Andy Achleck all crashed out of the race today in two separate incidences. The final event, and the monument of the three is Liege-Bastogne-Liege which runs next Sunday to cap off the Super Seven days of Cycling.
Amstel Gold Top Ten
1. Roman Kreuziger (STB)
2. Alejandro Valverde (MOV)
3. Simon Gerrans (OGE)
4. Michael Kwiatkowski (OPQ)
5. Phillipe Gilbert (BMC)
6. Sergio Luis Henao (SKY)
7. Bjorn Leukemans (VAC)
8. Pieter Weening (OGE)
9. Enrico Gasparotto (AST)
10. Bauke Mollema (BLA)