It wasn’t Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert or any of the other pre-race favourites who took victory at the opening Ardennes classic Amstel Gold, but Roman Kreuziger who upset the odds to take the biggest one-day win of his career. He launched an early move and held off the charging pack behind to take an impressive win, 22 seconds up on Alejandro Valverde and Simon Gerrans, who completed the podium.
Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Tim De Troyer and Nicolas Vogondy (both Accent.jobs-Wanty), Alexandre Pliuschin (IAM), Arthur Van Overberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baolise), Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp) and Klaas Sys (Crelan-Euphony) made up the day’s main breakaway and managed to build up an advantage of 11 minutes before the peloton started to close it down.
There was an early scare for one of the race favourites, Philippe Gilbert (BMC), who was caught up in a crash with around 90km to go. He agitatedly stood waiting for a new bike for what seemed like an eternity, and Blanco didn’t make themselves very popular by deciding to make it as hard as possible for the world champion to rejoin, driving the pace on the front of the peloton. However, their efforts were in vain, as within 20km the shredded peloton had regrouped.
With 46km to go Astarloza decided to attack his breakaway companions and managed to open up a gap. Counter-attacks started to fly off the front of the peloton, including one by former race winner Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida), though he was swept up on the penultimate ascent of the Cauberg. On this climb Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) made the key move, attacking with Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha).
The favourites continued to mark each other closely at the front of the peloton, allowing the trio to join a group ahead consisting of counter-attackers Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE), Lars Petter Nordhaug and David Tanner (both Blanco), Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Vansummeren and Pliuschin from the day’s original breakaway. Astarloza was quickly caught as Kreuziger started pushing hard on the front, dropping a couple of riders.
However, more dangerous looking attacks from the likes of Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) had forced the peloton to pick up the pace, and with 10km to go the gap was under 30 seconds. With Grivko beginning to drive the breakaway, riders were falling off the back quickly. Kreuziger decided to take it into his own hands and accelerate on the Bemelerberg with 7km remaining, attempting to solo his way to the finish.
Gilbert attacked on the final ascent of the Cauberg with other favourites in tow, though it became quickly apparent that the peloton had left it too late to close down the gap. Kreuziger won by over 20 seconds, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) finishing second and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) third.
Analysis & opinion
Without doubt this was a result no-one was expecting, with Kreuziger even admitting it was a surprise after the race. However, it’s a great result for the Czech rider, who has been often seen as delivering disappointing results despite his unquestionable talent. Still only 26, the move to Saxo-Tinkoff for this season will hopefully kick-start his career.
As for the manner in which he won the race – it was exactly as the race organisers would have hoped. Adjusting the final circuit for this year’s edition, they tried to encourage attacks before the final ascent of the Cauberg, and they certainly did. As it turned out, the eventual winner attacked extremely early and finished comfortably ahead of those who left it until the climb. However, this can’t be entirely ascribed to the new parcours, but also due to a lack of communication and cooperation in the peloton. The bunch had ample time to bring Kreuziger back but didn’t, holding back until as late as possible. Suffice to say, they paid the price.
However, there’s little doubt that the likes of Gilbert, Valverde and Gerrans are in great form ahead of the remaining Ardennes classics. One notable absentee was Peter Sagan (Cannondale), who finished outside the top two in a one-day event for the first time this season, in 36th place. He put the disappointing performance down to cramps brought on by the weather conditions. He doesn’t yet know if he’ll race Flèche Wallonne. I wonder if his excellent classics campaign is finally catching up with him.
1. Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) 6:35:21
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:22
3. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) same time
4. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
5. Philippe Gilbert (BMC) s/t
6. Sergio Henao (Sky) s/t
7. Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t
8. Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) s/t
9. Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) s/t
10. Bauke Mollema (Blanco) s/t
Links: Preview, Official website