Kreuziger – nice win, shame about the Ferrari allegations. Orica’s strong performance. Sky and Sagan – missing in action, and more.

Words by Edward Pickering

Monday April 15, 2013

KREUZIGER: QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
Roman Kreuziger rode a clever and aggressive race to win the Amstel Gold Race. He chose the perfect moment to bridge from the peloton to the break, over the Cauberg, just as the peloton was being considerably weakened by the climb. Then he chose the perfect moment to attack the break, towards the top of the Bemelerberg climb. The timing was perfect, and he had the strength to take his lead all the way to the finish line.

Although this is the Czech rider’s first major one-day win, he’s had primarily good results in stage races until now. He’s won the Tour of Romandy and Tour of Switzerland, and achieved two top 10 results at the Tour de France, and fifth in the Giro d’Italia.

In fact, he was a real prodigy. I remember adding a sidebar to an interview Cycle Sport did with him in early 2010 which compared his results at the same age as other young achievers in the Tour de France since 1990.

When he was 22, he came 13th in the Tour (bumped up to 12th by a subsequent disqualification). Only Jan Ullrich, who was second in 1996 at the same age, had been better at the same age.

When he was 23, he came ninth in the Tour. That’s better than Andy Schleck (12th) and Vincenzo NIbali (20th) were at 23. Only Ullrich (1st in 1997, and Peter Luttenberger (fifth in 1996) were better.

However, he only improved to eighth at 24, in 2010, his last year with Liquigas. Fifth in the Giro in 2011, with Astana, was his last strong result in a Grand Tour. Since then, he’s been mediocre.

However, stunning results – and they were stunning, all the way back to his Tour of Switzerland win at 22 in 2008 – aren’t the only feature of Kreuziger’s early years as a professional. His name also popped up in the Lance Armstrong case brought by the United States Anti-Doping Agency at the end of last year.

In his witness statement, former rider Leonardo Bertagnolli alleged that Kreuziger was one of several Liquigas riders who was being trained by disgraced sports scientist Michele Ferrari. Bertagnolli admitted that Ferrari had administered EPO to him.

Now Kreuziger is a Classics winner, with the added novelty of having achieved it in an attacking, classy way. But given cycling’s past, he now owes it to the fans to clear up the matter of his relationship with Doctor Ferrari.

NEW COURSE, OLD TACTICS

Philippe Gilbert, Simon Gerrans and Alejandro Valverde are riders of similar strengths. Their speciality is uphill sprinting, which means the Ardennes Classics and Amstel Gold have been fertile territory for good results for them.

But yesterday, they got caught out by the route change. With the finish line 1,500 metres further down the road from the top of the Cauberg, uphill sprinting was no longer enough.

The trio were still the strongest riders on the Cauberg. Gilbert’s attack on the final climb was incredible, and it took Valverde and Gerrans a long time to claw their way up to his back wheel. Everybody else had been easily dropped.

But it counted for nothing when they couldn’t find enough common cause to close down Kreuziger, who was just over 10 seconds ahead at the top.

Their mistake was a double one. First, they assumed that any break could be closed down enough for them to decide the race on the Cauberg – but the course whittled down the peloton so much that only BMC had the numbers to mount a chase, and given Kreuziger’s strength, this wasn’t enough. Second, they stopped co-operating, to such an extent that they were caught by the next group.

It’s early to say whether the new course favours exciting racing, but one out of one is not a bad record.

ORICA’S TACTICS: HIT OR MISS
Orica really got stuck into Amstel Gold. Their Dutchman, Pieter Weening, went for a mid-range attack with about 40 kilometres to go, and was a persistent force in the escape group which decided the race. Then Simon Gerrans sprinted in and took third place. Weening held on for eighth.

Weening’s presence in the break took the pressure off the team, who could focus on protecting Simon Gerrans without the responsibility of chasing.

Could they have done better? If Orica had kept Weening back to assist in BMC’s chase, Kreuziger might have been closed down, putting Gerrans in a position to sprint for first, rather than second. But it was a day when conservative tactics were overshadowed by attacking enterprise. The result was Orica’s first podium in a major one-day race this year. Well worth the effort they put in.

MISSING IN ACTION (i): SAGAN
Something was wrong with Peter Sagan in Amstel Gold. Just four days previously, he’d won Brabantse Pijl with a performance of Merckx-like dominance, single-handedly chasing down strong breaks in the finale, leading out Gilbert in the sprint, then still managing to come back round the world champion.

The Slovak, who’s not come lower than second in a major one-day race this year, blamed his performance on the warm weather, but it was hardly summer weather in the Netherlands. And generally, riders don’t lose form as quickly as he seemed to between Brabantse Pijl and Amstel.

It’s possible that his poor performance yesterday, along with that of his team, caught out the other favourites. For most pundits, the question before the race was not whether he’d win, but by how far. The same might have gone of his rivals, who’d have based their races to a certain extent on the assumption that he was going to be a factor.

By the time they realised he wasn’t, and that Cannondale weren’t going to be any help in the final run-in to Valkenburg, Kreuziger was 30 seconds up the road.

MISSING IN ACTION (ii): SKY

How long before Sky’s Classics campaign edges over into the territory of a disaster?

While their stage racers continue to sweep all before them, the team’s vaunted Classics project has fallen flat on its face. Sergio Henao rode well to finish sixth in Amstel Gold, but he’d been unable to match Gilbert, Gerrans and Valverde on the Cauberg, and the rest of the team were non-existent as a tactical force and invisible at the front.

Their mediocre performance here wasn’t even down to the controversial training regime in Tenerife, which the flat Classics team used to replace racing in Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. After the race, their DS Nicolas Portal blamed crashes.

Sky remain without a podium in the WorldTour one-day races. They’re not the only team in that situation, but they are certainly the biggest one. Now they’ve got two races to rescue their spring campaign.

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