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A resurgent Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) broke away on the final climb to win the 49th edition of the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday.
The peloton had only just retrieved an escape going into the final ascent of the Cauberg when first Samuel Sanchez, then Gilbert lit it up, the latter instantly opening a lead of several bike lengths. And while Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) led a frantic pursuit, it was too late — the BMC man had plenty of time to sit up, arrange his jersey for the cameramen, and celebrate his third victory here.
“My teammates did a great job,” Gilbert said. “During the briefing the Sanchez attack was foreseen. So it wasn’t a surprise for me, but I think it was one for my adversaries. … I just had to wait.”
Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol) finished second with Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) out-kicking Kwiatkowski and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) for third.
The 252km race from Maastricht to Valkenburg claimed a host of victims, with Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) and Geraint Thomas (Sky) among those forced to abandon following crashes.
An early 10-man break had dwindled to Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Nicola Boem (Bardiani-CSF) with just over 30km to go.
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) attacked from the bunch to try to reach the leaders, and following were Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team), Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol), Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha), Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Paul Martens (Belkin).
Boem lost contact on the Keutenberg, leaving a twosome out front. And with 24km remaining Riblon and Van Hecke still had 90 seconds’ advantage as they passed the finish line for the first time and entered the final circuit.
The Voeckler group was shedding riders and had only a couple dozen seconds’ edge over the main group, which likewise was whittling itself down.
With 15km to go the two leaders were carrying on, with the Voeckler group at 40 seconds and the main bunch just behind.
As the intermediate group came apart and drifted back to the peloton Van Avermaet and Fuglsang held firm and kept chasing the leaders. With 11km to go it was a four-man lead group, just seconds ahead of the main bunch.
Garmin was setting the pace on the penultimate climb, the Bemerlerberg. Then Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) shot away from the chase and bridged to the leaders.
That was the cue for Van Avermaet to try his luck. He got nowhere, and as one rider after another tried and failed the pursuit pulled them back in and it was one big bunch with 7km remaining.
Orica-GreenEdge came to the front then and set the pace with one final ascent of the 12 percent, 800-meter Cauberg remaining.
Teams fought for position in the high-speed descent to the last climb, and as the ground tilted upward it was Gilbert who blasted out of the pack and drove for the line, just as he did in the 2012 world road championships.
“I took the inside path of the curve. We knew it was supposed to be bad wind in the final, but of course I knew the route very well,” he said.
Gilbert hit the red kite alone, pursued by Simon Gerrans (Orica), Valverde and Kwiatkowski. And he would stay alone, crossing the line with a broad grin and one hand raised skyward.
Gilbert said it was an emotional day for him, with his wife and children at the start.
“It was a good moment for me and for them … the emotion was really strong,” he said. “And also for me, I’m still like a child somewhere. I’m still dreaming about races like this one.”
Vanendert was pleased with his runner-up finish.
“It confirms the condition is back,” he said. The feelings I had in racing and training were really good. In Paris-Nice I raced with a broken elbow, so you have to be careful with that.”
As for Gerrans, he said the best man won.
“Philippe came straight past me. …. He was going too strong for me today,” he said. “It’s my third time finishing third in this race, so I would have liked to improve on that, but I’m happy finishing on the podium, behind Philippe who was the strongest guy in the race today. There’s no question.”
Editor’s note: Senior writer Matthew Beaudin contributed to this report.