By Jonny Long
Mathieu van der Poel won an extraordinary sprint finish in the Amstel Gold Race 2019, leaving it until the finishing straight to catch up to the front of the race before sprinting ahead to take his first ever Ardennes Classics victory.
Julian Alaphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang had looked like they would fight it out between themselves, opening up a 40 second advantage with 3km to go. That was before Van der Poel led a large group seemingly from nowhere back to the business end of the race before sprinting for the win.
The Dutchman had originally tried to animate the race up the Guiperberg, with 43km remaining, but it was a few kilometres later when a crash split the peloton, with Alaphilippe and Fuglsang taking full advantage and going on the attack.
The pair looked like they would be the only two in contention for the win before the race unexpectedly came back together and a frantic sprint finish ensued with Van der Poel proving the strongest.
The 24-year-old adds victory in the Amstel Gold Race to a sensational debut spring Classics season that has seen him pick up wins in Dwars door Vlaanderen and De Brabantse Pijl.
How it happened
The 54th edition of the race featured the same narrow roads, short, sharp ascents, twists and turns we’ve come to expect from the Amstel Gold Race, with the 265.7km route remaining unchanged from the 2018 race.
After rolling out of Maastricht, the peloton faced three big loops through the South Limburg hills. The final loop contains ascents of the Geulhemmerberg and Bemelerberg, but not the Cauberg, which the peloton will have already ascended three times.
The day's breakaway went clear after 25km of racing, just after the peloton hit the Lange Raarberg, the third climb of the day. The breakaway consisted of 11 riders: Michael Schär (CCC Team), Nick van der Lijke, (Roompot-Charles), Paolo Simion (Bardiani-CSF), Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo), Thomas Sprengers (Sport Vlaanderen Baloise), Aaron Verwilst (Sport Vlaanderen Baloise), Grega Bole (Bahrain-Merida), Jimmy Janssens (Corendon-Circus), with Tom Van Asbroeck (Israel Cycling Academy), Marco Minnaard and Jérôme Baugnies (both Wanty-Groupe Gobert) joining a few kilometres later.
The breakaway's advantaged reached a maximum of 7-30, eventually dropping with Astana doing a lot of the work to get the breakaway's gap back in to just a couple of minutes.
Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), clad once again in his white shorts, has started to make it a habit of his to animate races far out from the finish, and he treated his debut Amstel Gold Race no differently. The Dutchman attacked with 43km to go up the Guiperberg, taking Spanish champion Gorka Izagirre with him. But their move only lasted for 4km, when they were brought back into the bunch, denting the breakaway's lead to only 35 seconds.
Soon after Van der Poel was brought back in, there was a crash as the peloton curved round a bend, with Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) going down. This split the peloton, with Deceuninck - Quick-Step driving the front group to take advantage of the situation.
Alaphilippe and Van der Poel then launched an attack, taking the chance afforded to them by the confusion of the crash, with the pair quickly joining the breakaway which was at that point starting to splinter.
The front end of the race was all back together for the start of the Kruisberg, until Alaphilippe attacked again, with 36km to go, with Jakob Fuglsang and Matteo Trentin following.
Fuglsang joined Alaphilippe on the Eyserbosweg, with Trentin dropping back and forming a chase group with Michał Kwiatkowski.
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) was dropped from the main bunch with 35km remaining, as the Slovakian continues to struggle for form this spring. As Sagan reached the finish line to start the final lap, the race clearly gone for him, he climbed off and headed for an early shower.
Michał Kwiatkowski was doing a great job to pull Alaphilippe and Fuglsang back in, getting the gap down to 15 seconds as the Polish champion tried to distance Trentin on the Guelhemmerberg, the penultimate climb of the day.
Alaphilippe started to test the legs of Fuglsang on the Bemelerberg, but Fuglsang then tried to go too, as the pair began to think about their duel for the win as Kwiatkowski's gap drifted to 40 seconds with 3km left to race.
Max Schachmann, who had launched from the peloton as the race looked like it was over for the bunch, joined Trentin, with Kwiatkowski only just ahead, 20 seconds behind the leaders with 2km to go.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the camera panned around in time to see a large chase group, headed by Van der Poel, catching Trentin and Schachmann, with just over 1km remaining.
At this point, Kwiatkowski had finally managed to bridge to Alaphilippe and Fuglsang, with Van der Poel's chase group catching, and Kwiatkowski then taking his chance, launching an early attack towards the finish line.
On the finishing straight, Van Der Poel had caught up with the front of the race, and Alaphilippe started his sprint. Mathieu Van der Poel then launched and came past Alaphilippe to take his first ever Amstel Gold Race victory.
Amstel Gold Race 2019: Maastricht to Berg en Terblijt (265.7km)
1 Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Corendon-Circus, in 4-35-11
2. Simon Clarke (Aus) EF Education First
3 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana
4 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
5 Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
6 Bjorg Lambrecht (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
7 Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) CCC Team
8 Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
9 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale
10 Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott, all at same time
Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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