The so-called Ardennes Classics began yesterday in the Limburg region of the Netherlands, with the 51st edition of the Amstel Gold Race. It was Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) that took victory, managing to hold off a chasing bunch thanks to some assistance from Michael Valgren (Tinkoff). For Gasparotto, it was his second victory at the race, four years after his first (which was also his last win).
Here’s what we’re talking about after the 2016 Amstel Gold Race.
Fabio Felline’s neutral zone crash was unfortunate but seemingly avoidable
Crashes are part and parcel of bike racing — every pro can count on at least a handful each year, and most are unavoidable. So when a crash is self-inflicted and in the neutral zone of a race you’ve been working hard to be ready for? Brutal.
We suspect Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) will be feeling pretty sore and sorry for himself after this mishap in yesterday’s race.
According to his team, Felline was trying to “remove a small piece of glass from the tyre” when his hand seemed to get caught between wheel and fork, bringing Felline’s bike to an abrupt halt and sending the Italian sailing over his handlebars.
If Felline was indeed trying to remove glass from his tyre, why didn’t he run a bidon over the front of his tyre, as most amateurs know to do? Alternatively, if he was trying to adjust his quick-release, as some have suggested, why didn’t he stop to do so? They were still in the neutral zone and getting back on would have been easy.
Bike racing is dangerous and crash-prone enough without increasing your chances of a spill. That said, we all do things without thinking sometimes. We just hope that Felline makes a speedy recovery from surgery (he broke his nose and suffered a small skull fracture) and that we see him racing again before too long. He’s an exciting talent with great things ahead of him.
Orica-GreenEdge rode the perfect race … until the final climb
Orica-GreenEdge came into the Amstel Gold Race with two of the big favourites — Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans — and the team rode accordingly. Luke Durbridge spent much of the first 170km on the front of the peloton, setting the pace and keeping the breakaway at a manageable distance.
Michael Albasini and Daryl Impey took control once Durbridge sat up, reeling in the last of the escapees. And then, with 13km to go, Paris-Roubaix winner Mat Hayman appeared on the front of the peloton, having been dropped earlier and having battled his way back to the bunch. All the while, Matthews and Gerrans remained perfectly placed near the front, biding their time until the final ascent of the Cauberg.
When the reduced peloton hit the climb it was eventual winner Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) that made the first big acceleration and Matthews was right on his wheel.
“Michael was there when Gasparotto went first,” Orica-GreenEdge sports director Matt White said afterwards. “Then [Michael] Valgren went after that, and he was one wheel behind him. So [Matthews] didn’t have it when it mattered.”
It’s certainly possible that Matthews, despite being fresh from sitting in the bunch all day, just didn’t have the legs on the Cauberg. But maybe he just didn’t see Gasparotto’s move as a viable threat? Or perhaps he was concerned about a repeat performance of last year.
In the 2015 Amstel Gold Race, Matthews gave it everything on the Cauberg to follow a trademark attack from Philippe Gilbert (see image above). The Australian was the only one able to match Gilbert’s acceleration, but when the race came back together for a reduced bunch kick, Matthews had expended too much energy and wasn’t able to put in his best sprint. Perhaps Matthews was gambling everything on a sprint this time around and didn’t want to go too hard on the climb.
Without knowing all the details it’s impossible to say exactly what happened. But with Gerrans and Matthews declared as “joint leaders” for the race, with both riders finishing in the chase group, and with the Richmond Worlds incident still fresh in people’s minds, it’s only natural to wonder whether the pair could have worked better together. Maybe they wouldn’t have been able to close the gap to Gasparotto and Valgren, but why not have assigned one rider to follow moves on the Cauberg and leave the other for a bunch sprint if it came to that?
Still, all will be forgotten if Simon Gerrans wins Liege-Bastogne-Liege again next Sunday …
Following Paris-Roubaix was a tough ask, but this year’s Amstel Gold Race was just a little dull
It was always going to be difficult for the Amstel Gold Race to match the level of excitement and drama we saw at Paris-Roubaix a week earlier. After all, this year’s Hell of the North delivered six-hours of almost non-stop action from start to finish. Yesterday’s Amstel Gold Race, by contrast, wasn’t nearly as exciting.
The first 180km were a pretty predictable affair, with a breakaway getting clear before being held at bay by Orica-GreenEdge and Sky at the head of a seemingly relaxed peloton. It wasn’t until the final 65km that we saw some more aggressive racing start to unfold. Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) inspired three others to join him in chasing the ever-thinning breakaway and in the final 40km there were a handful of short-lived attacks as the two groups out front were steadily reeled in.
Tim Wellens’ salvo with 7.5km provided a brief moment of excitement, but it too had an air of inevitability about it. By that stage the breakaway had been caught, and the pace was high enough in the bunch that any moves off the front had little chance of success. Sure enough, it all came down to the Cauberg where Wellens was caught and Gasparotto made his bid for victory.
It was an tense finale — would Gasparotto and Valgren be caught just before the line? — but ultimately the more-than-six-hour race provided only brief moments of excitement for fans, particularly when placed alongside last week’s cobbled classic.
It’s (still) time for a shake-up of the course
This time last year we wrote that the Amstel Gold Race course was due for a bit of an overhaul. Given the point above about this year’s edition, we’d argue the same is still true.
The race played out more or less as it was expected to — break established, break caught, Cauberg. Sure, the race needs to be as long as it is to ensure only the strongest riders can win, and we’re certainly not saying the Amstel Gold Race is easy, but when we’re talking about a 250km Classic, it should be more than the last 20km that decide the race.
Could it be that, even with 34 climbs, the course just needs to be a little more selective? Or is it that riders only wait until the final 50km before really turning up the heat? Or is there more to it than that?
Regardless, many fans will be hoping that race organisers take a look at the route for next year’s event and see what can be done to mix things up a bit. And if they want to really mix things up, they could always take Tom Dumoulin’s advice: “Get somebody completely unrelated to cycling to outline the course,” the Dutchman told NOS. “That way we won’t understand it, team managers won’t understand it, and you’ll get an interesting race …”
Gasparotto’s win was a fitting result
While it’s easy to be critical of how the Amstel Gold Race played out, yesterday’s edition certainly delivered in some ways. A week after Mat Hayman’s fairytale win at Paris-Roubaix, Enrico Gasparotto delivered another feel-good result, particularly for his Wanty-Groupe Gobert team and all associated with it.
While nothing will make up for the tragic loss of Antoine Demoitie at Gent-Wevelgem three weeks ago, Wanty-Groupe Gobert has done itself proud with several memorable tribute rides since. Dimitri Claeys’ stirling top-10 ride at the Tour of Flanders was inspired by and dedicated to Demoitie, and Gasparotto’s win yesterday was the icing on the cake.
Not only was the victory an impressive result for the team — it’s always noteworthy when a ProContinental team wins a WorldTour race — it also had importance well beyond the bike race.
“This victory is for Antoine Demoitié’s family, Gasparotto said. “Today, I had an angel on my shoulder. When I thought about Antoine, I went faster.”
What better way to celebrate your first win in four years than by dedicating it to your fallen teammate. Congratulations Enrico, and chapeau.
So, what did we miss? What will you take from the 2016 Amstel Gold Race?