Philippe Gilbert (BMC) looked back to his very best form with victory in the Amstel Gold race for the third time in his career.
The Belgian has endured two relatively disappointing years since he completed an historical quadruple in the Ardennes Classics in 2011, but his win today – his second following Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl – was reminiscent of the way he used to dominate his rivals.
Typically, his decisive move was made on the final accent of the Cauberg. A powerful attack saw him open up a large gap ahead of Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), and he was able to comfortably hold off their chase in the run-in to the finish.
Gilbert capitalised on some excellent work by his BMC team. Greg Van Avermart forced other teams to chase by placing himself in an earlier break, why Samuel Sanchez (BMC) acted as decoy on the Cauberg by attacking at the bottom of the climb, forcing Gerrans, Valverde and Kwiatkowski to follow him, and allowing Gilbert to counter-attack.
It was ex-teammate of Gilbert’s who finished second, in Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol). Despite not featuring in the initial attacks, he managed to catch up with the aforementioned trio on the Cauberg, before attacking alone to finish second. Like Gilbert, Vanendert has suffered a prolonged lean spell of his own, and this placing suggests he will be feature during the rest of Ardennes week.
There was no successful early breakaway like Roman Kreuziger’s (Tinkoff-Saxo) last year, but plenty of big names had a go. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) instigated an attack around 40kms out that included Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Zdenek Stybar (Omega) Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Peter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) and Tim Wellens (Lotto), who were later joined by Alexander Kolobnev (Katusha), Bjorn Leukemens (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Paul Martens (Belkin).
This group dangled agonisingly ahead of the peloton and was never able to build a substantial lead, but had the effect of causing teams like Omega-Pharma (who saw Stybar dropped from the break) and Movistar to lead the chase.
Van Avermaet was a particularly lively presence, and with ten kilometres to go only he and Fuglsang were left, along with Christophe Riblon (Ag2r) and Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) who themselves were the only survivors of the first break of the day. Despite being caught with seven kilometres to go, BMC reaped the benefits of having fresh riders by sending Sanchez on the attack, before Gilbert made his race-winning move.
Earlier many riders had found themselves victims to the narrow, treacherous roads of the Amstel Gold, with Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Andy Schleck (Trek) and Geraint Thomas (Sky) all abandoning with crashes, while Dan Martin (Garmin) had to pull out with allergies. Josh Edmondson (Sky) also abandoned with mechanical problems while there was no sign of Ben Swift (Sky) in the final selection, capping a bad day for Team Sky. They will hope for better luck in Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne and Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Amstel Gold Race 2014
1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing
2. Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
3. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar
5. Michael Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
6. Simon Geschke (Ger) Giant-Shimano
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin
8. Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana
9. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha
10. Yukiya Arashiro (Jap) Europcar