Coming after Paris-Roubaix, the Amstel Gold Race feels like the sequel to a blockbuster movie. The backdrop has changed slightly but the basic plot remains the same. The cast list has been tweaked a bit – Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet keep their starring roles but Julian Alaphilippe and Alejandro Valverde come in to freshen things up. But it was Astana’s Michael Valgren who took the win ahead of past winners Roman Kreuziger (Mitchelton-Scott) and Enrico Gasparotto of Bahrain-Merida. With all the vital action contained in the last 20km, we had to wait for the pot to boil. If you like an absorbing battle, it was worth the wait.
Rider of the raceEmbed from Getty Images
A huge tip of the hat must go to Michael Valgren. Despite winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and coming fourth in the Tour of Flanders, he wasn’t the first name on many lips when predicting a winner. However, with riders like Alejandro Valverde, Peter Sagan, Jakob Fuglsang, Julian Alaphillipe and Tim Wellens in contention right up to the final kilometres, this is a classy classy win for the Dane. The only factor not giving him outright rider of the race is that he was helped, again, by having a teammate in the final group.
My actual rider of the race nod goes to… wait for it… Peter Sagan. The Bora-Hansgrohe leader has been criticised for almost everything he’s done this spring, especially an inability to tactically outsmart Quick-Step. He broke that one last week at Paris-Roubaix and seemed to ride this race with much more freedom.Embed from Getty Images
Sagan wasn’t afraid to close down moves on his own and he didn’t mind if he dragged another rider or two along with him. Those efforts seemed to get him more help in return and the chase group worked together with more cohesion than we saw in any of the cobbled classics. That teamwork set up a great finale to this race.
Gone was Sagan sitting back and letting riders go off the front. The forlornly flicked elbow was nowhere to be seen. No more looking around in expectation of someone, anyone, to do something. With another Monument on his metaphorical mantelpiece Sagan wasn’t afraid to lose by trying to win.
I wouldn’t have begrudged him victory here at all. The final selection was full of thin and wiry riders. Sagan appears to be twice their size but he didn’t struggle to stay with the whippets on any climb, which just underlines his quality. Sagan was out-gunned in the end but given that he’d worked so hard it wasn’t the frustrating faff we’d seen earlier in the spring. This was a pragmatic realisation he was beaten. The world champion representing the rainbow stripes in style once more.
What else happened?
Old Gold: Behind the sprightly Valgren (26) on the podium were Roman Kreuziger (31) who won the race in 2013 and Enrico Gasparotto (36) who triumphed in 2012 and 2016. The pair, both former Astana riders, worked together for a good few kilometres to try and get a winning gap on the peloton after jumping an attacking Jakob Fuglsang. Fuglsang must have felt like he’d been mugged by a greatest hits album.
There are no shortcuts: You could forgive Luke Rowe (disqualified from the Tour of Flanders for going off the road) for being just a little angry after seeing Peter Sagan do this…
— La Flamme Rouge (@laflammerouge16) 15 April 2018
Women’s race: The world champion did win the Amstel Gold Race today. Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) won the women’s edition. Full race report and results can be found hereEmbed from Getty Images
Final resultsEmbed from Getty Images
1 Michael Valgren (Astana) 6:40.07
2 Roman Kreuziger (Mitchelton-Scott) st
3 Enrico Gasparotto (Bahrain Merida) + 0.02
4 Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) +0.19
5 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) st
6 Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) st
7 Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) st
8 Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +0.23
9 Lawson Craddock (EF Drapac) +0.3
10 Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal) +0.36
Header image: Michael Valgren ©GETTY/Velo/Luc Claessen