Michael Valgren (Astana) took the biggest victory of his career at the 2018 Amstel Gold Race, beating Roman Kreuziger (Mitchelton-Scott) to the line in a two-up sprint.
Valgren, who finished second at the 2016 Amstel Gold Race, made the key move of the race with just over 2km remaining, breaking clear of a select eight-man leading group which included the likes of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step), Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and his team-mate Jakob Fuglsang.
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Kreuziger was the first to jump over to join him, while two-time Amstel winner Enrico Gasparotto (Bahrain-Merida) delayed before making pursuit in the final 1500m.
Kreuziger and Valgren entered the final 800m with a significant gap to group behind, and prepared to battle it out in a sprint with Gasparotto looming just behind.
2013 winner Kreuziger never looked confident of taking on the Dane, letting him drift behind him in the final few hundred metres.
Valgren was then able to launch his sprint with his Czech rival unable to respond, allowing the Astana man to celebrate over the line as he took victory. It’s Valgren’s second major Classic win of the season, after taking victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February.
Gasparotto rolled in just after for third place, with Sagan winning the sprint for fourth ahead of Valverde.
How it happened
With 263km on the cards from Maastricht to Valkenburg, the peloton were happy to let a substantial group get up the road and gain some time early on.
Bram Tankink (LottoNL-Jumbo), Tsgabu Grmay (Trek-Segafredo), Matteo Bono (UAE Team Emirates), Lawson Craddock (EF-Drapac), Oscar Riesebeek (Roompot), Eddie Dunbar (Aqua Blue Sport), Marco Tizza (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Willem Smit (Katusha-Alpecin) and Preben Van Hecke (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) were the riders to break clear, gaining over 15 minutes in advantage.
With little action to speak of over the attritional climbs of the race and the gap gradually reducing, it only severely came down ahead of 50km to go, dropping to three minutes.
Things really began to heat up towards the Eyserbosweg climb with around 37km to go, with a huge number of riders shed out of the back of the peloton on the climb, and the gap down to 1-40.
Attacks came thick and fast in the final 30km to try and thin out the main group, with world champion Peter Sagan among those attempting to break away.
Enrico Gasparotto and Roman Kreuziger made the first distinctive move from the peloton, getting a circa 25 second gap on the main group and eventually bridging to the original break on the Cauberg.
The peloton loomed with 27 seconds to the front group after setting a ferocious pace up the Cauberg with around 18km to go, with no-one able to break free with an attack, despite riders like Julian Alphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang trying to get free over the top of the race’s iconic climb.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Rudy Molard (FDJ) were able to briefly get clear approaching a crossing of the finish line with around 15km to go, but were unable to bridge to the break out front which still had just shy of 20 seconds.
The breakers were eventually caught over the top of the Geulhemmerberg, with Alejandro Valverde dragging a group of Tim Wellens, Peter Sagan, Michael Valgren as well as Fuglsang and Alaphilippe across the gap with a stinging effort up the climb.
Van Avermaet, Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) were the key riders to miss out on the move, and were quickly dropped into a group that found itself over 20 seconds behind the leaders.
Fuglsang was the first to try on the final climb of Bemmelerberg as he tracked two riders from the original break before going solo, but was soon joined by Valverde and the rest of the group.
Astana then tried to make their two-man advantage count as Valgren attacked with 4.6km to go, but he was tracked closely by the group who were keen to stop anyone getting clear.
But Valgren then tried again with just over 2km to go, taking advantage of the hesitation from the likes of Sagan and Valverde who were perhaps thinking of a sprint finish, with the Dane getting clear with Kreuziger joining him.
No-one looked up for chasing them down until Gasparotto made a late move, but he was unable to get back up the pair as they fought it out for victory.
Amstel Gold Race 2018 (263km)
1 Michael Valgren (Den) Astana Pro Team, in 6-40-07
2 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Mitchelton-Scott, same time
3 Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 2s
4 Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 19s
5 Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team
6 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal
7 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, all same time
8 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team, at 23s
9 Lawson Craddock (USA) EF Education First-Drapac, at 30s
10 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal, at 36s