Kwiatkowski takes Amstel Gold Race in world champion’s rainbow jersey

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Michal Kwiatkowski christened his rainbow jersey in fine style at the end of the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, blasting home to pick up his first road race victory as world champion. The Etixx-QuickStep competitor was quickest in an 18-man sprint to the line, beating Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team), Michael Matthews (Orica GreenEdge), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) and others.

Matthews was the only rider able to answer a ferocious attack by defending champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) on the final climb of the Cauberg. Gilbert let fly on a hill he knows well, having won three editions of the race plus the 2012 world road race championships there.

However Matthews foiled his plans of soloing to another victory, remaining resolutely stuck to his wheel as the Belgian gave it everything to try to break him. The effort hurt, though, and it seemed that he was lacking a little of his usual oomph when it came to the final sprint.

The duo were hauled back by other chasers after the top, with Valverde the first to come across. The others joined soon after, ensuring a small group sprint to the line where Kwiatkowski proved best.

The Polish rider took the prologue in Paris-Nice earlier this year but his latest triumph was the first chance for him to raise his arms in triumph in a road race.

“This was a great day for me, the hard work paid off,” he said, speaking after joining Eddy Merckx, Jan Raas and Bernard Hinault as the only reigning world champions to win the Amstel Gold Race.

“I’m really thankful that my teammates were so amazing today. I was always in the top 20 or 25 positions. I could relax the whole day. We had Tony [Martin] in the important breakaway and that was crucial for me.

“Of course I was suffering as well in a race with so many climbs. The second-to-last time up the Cauberg I said to Gianni Meersman ‘you know, I’m not feeling so good today.’ But he said to me straight away that everyone is suffering with 34 climbs at this race and I have to make it. That gave me a lot of motivation before the last time up the Cauberg. I’m really thankful they believed in me until the last moment.”

Alejandro Valverde accepted his second place, believing that it reflected a strong ride by himself and his team.

“I think you can’t ask for a better result after what I did today; taking second place, into a more open finish than the one on top of the Cauberg, with a field sprint like today’s and after all the hard work by the team,” said Valverde. “We did everything we could.

“I think I came into the Cauberg in good position, but after sprinting away from the turn, everyone stopped and I got boxed in. I was arguing to myself, ‘why again, why this always happens to me,’ but fortunately and even though I saw Gilbert opening a really big gap with his attack, I had good legs and as soon as I saw a gap, I jumped and could reach him well.

“I did really think about keeping the effort and leaving Gilbert and Matthews behind when I caught them, and I accelerated in that moment, hoping that they’d look to each other, but there was no gap for me. I think I was one of the strongest today, I took second, came really close, fought as usual… I think we must stay happy with that.”

50th Amstel Gold Race 2015

How it played out:

After the flatter Northern Classics of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, won by Alexander Kristoff and John Degenkolb respectively, the all rounders in the peloton moved forward for their own opportunities in the 258 kilometre Amstel Gold Race.

The first of the trio of the Ardennes Classics, the tough parcours favours those who can climb on short, sharp climbs, thus rewarding punchy riders.

After rolling out of Maastricht the inevitable flurry of attacks were fired off. Sky’s Wout Poels slipped clear early on but was unsuccessful; another such move was one by Lars Boom (Astana) and Sjoerd Van Ginneken of the Roompot team.

A more successful effort was made just under 30 kilometres after the start when six riders pushed ahead and were given some leeway. The group contained WorldTour riders Jan Polanc of Lampre, LottoNL-Jumbo’s Timo Roosen, Astana’s Laurens De Vreese plus the Pro Continental competitors Johann Van Zyl (MTN-Qhubeka), Linus Gerdemann (Cult Energy), and Mike Terpstra (Team Roompot).

Working well together, this group had over four minutes after 40 kilometres of racing and continued to extend to nine minutes with 175 kilometres remaining. This inched upwards to ten minutes by the feedzone, giving the break good appetite, but the pendulum swung soon afterwards that the bunch started to get things under control.

With 100 kilometres left the break was just under seven minutes clear and over the next 20 kilometres a further two minutes was slashed off the lead. Matthews’ Orica GreenEdge team was encouraged by this plus its leader’s good sensations and added some horsepower, knocking the time gap down to under three minutes.

By the time the break reached the Gulpenerberg climb with approximately 50 kilometres left, they were just 50 seconds up. This change spelt danger for the move and Gerdemann, Polanc and De Vreese decided they were better off pressing ahead, increasing their advantage slightly to a minute with some 45 kilometres left.

David Tanner (IAM Cycling) and Orica’s Simon Clarke saw opportunity and jumped across to the break, then pushed ahead, while behind a strong group moved clear of the peloton. This contained Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and others. While the chase group’s momentum was affected by a crash, some managed to get across to Tanner and Clarke with 29 kilometres remaining.

Nibali was encouraged and, showing improving form, clipped away alone. However he was quickly hauled back by a chase containing Clarke, Tanner, Martin and Cannondale-Garmin’s Alex Howes. Tanner then tired to make his own solo run but was caught by the other four.

Heading onto the Cauberg climb for the second-last time, Nibali helped keep the pace high. This saw off Howes, but the other four pressed on and had a 16 seconds lead the penultimate time past the finish line.

50th Amstel Gold Race 2015

Battle rages as the finish line approaches

Nibali tried to get some freedom as the gap started to come down further but wasn’t given any leeway. Clarke then made his own push and had just under 20 seconds with 13 kilometres remaining. Gilbert’s BMC Racing Team weren’t prepared to give him a chance and were chasing hard, catching him with eight kilometres left.

Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang was feeling good and attacked on the second-last climb, the Bemelerberg. Gilbert’s team-mate Greg Van Avermaet was straight onto him and refused to pull through, trying to ensure that the Dane was dissuaded from continuing with his attack.

Fuglsang pressed on for a while but was unable to commit fully, knowing that Van Avermaet wouldn’t work with Gilbert behind.

They were caught with four kilometres left, then Orica GreenEdge pushed forward to try to keep things together for Matthews prior to the Cauberg.

Some small attacks were fired off at the foot of the climb, trying to pre-empt the big cannons. These weren’t successful and then Gilbert made his big move, surging hard and breaking the group behind. Matthews was the only one able to cover him, but Valverde and then several other chasers were able to bridge across over the top, making for a group sprint to the line.

Matthews’ well-known finishing speed pointed to him as a possible winner but the effort he made on the Cauberg had taken the zip out of his legs and he didn’t have his usual speed inside the final 100 metres. Kwiatkowski had no such worries, sprinting very well and hurtling in ahead of Valverde, Matthews, former world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and the rest.

Gilbert had no more cards left to play and trailed in 10th but, like the others who lost out, will try to get things right in Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne and next Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Ditto for Kwiatkowski, who will be psyched after his result and hungry for more success.

Rnk Rider Team Time
KWIATKOWSKI Michał KWIATKOWSKI Michał Etixx - Quick Step
Etixx - Quick Step 06:31:49
VALVERDE Alejandro VALVERDE Alejandro Movistar Team
Movistar Team 0:00
MATTHEWS Michael MATTHEWS Michael Orica GreenEDGE
Orica GreenEDGE ,,

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