Di Luca aces Amstel Gold after Boogerd’s dilemma

You can’t help but feel the anguish of Michael Boogerd. Although he did win the Amstel Gold Race in 1999, by narrowly outsprinting Lance Armstrong, Rabobank’s lanky Dutchman has since been the runner-up no less than four times. The cruelest of those second places came on Sunday, when the latest man to beat him to the line was Danilo Di Luca, the revitalized Liquigas-Bianchi team leader who last week won the Tour of the Basque Country.

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By John Wilcockson

Photo: Graham Watson

You can’t help but feel the anguish of Michael Boogerd. Although he did win the Amstel Gold Race in 1999, by narrowly outsprinting Lance Armstrong, Rabobank’s lanky Dutchman has since been the runner-up no less than four times. The cruelest of those second places came on Sunday, when the latest man to beat him to the line was Danilo Di Luca, the revitalized Liquigas-Bianchi team leader who last week won the Tour of the Basque Country.

Strange as it may seem, the problem Boogerd had this time was the very strength of his Rabobank team. Perhaps a different team would have put all their eggs into the Boogerd basket, but Rabobank wants to win too much on its home turf. Besides Boogerd, Rabobank had three other favorites. World champion Oscar Freire was itching for victory, as were the two (unrelated ) Dekkers, Erik and Thomas. But all four of these men were somewhat stymied by their Dutch teammate Karsten Kroon, who worked his way into a key four-man breakaway on the Kruisberg, the 27th of the day’s 31 climbs, with 20km to go.

“I was feeling great all day,” Boogerd said after the race. “At first, we didn’t want to take any risks on the wet roads, which were very dangerous in the corners. I wanted to attack, but there wasn’t much I could do with Kroon in the break.”

Boogerd launches his attack on the Cauberg

Boogerd launches his attack on the Cauberg

Photo: Graham Watson

Besides Kroon, also up front over the final hills on a day of thick fog were fellow Dutchman Marc Lotz (Quick Step), Spaniard David Etxebarria (Liberty Seguros), and the German Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile) — who had already been off the front of the race chasing an earlier break for more than an hour. This quartet had a tenuous lead of 30 seconds over the penultimate climb, the 20-percent Keutenberg with 11km to go, where Boogerd, Di Luca, eventual third-place finisher Mirko Celestino (Domina Vacanze), Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears) and defending champion Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) emerged from a rapidly disintegrating chase group.

The efforts of these “big guns” cut the gap to the four leaders to 15 seconds with 8km left, and 10 seconds entering the final 5km. Etxebarria had tried a few times to get clear of the other three leaders on the false flat after the Keutenberg, but Kroon chased him down every time.

Meanwhile, Lotz was just following Kroon, hoping that his four Quick Step teammates behind (including three-time World Cup champion Paolo Bettini) would have some strength left for the finale. As for Wesemann, whose T-Mobile team is still without a single victory this year, he said he was hoping the four could stay away “as fourth place is better than nothing. I only had one teammate, [Matthias] Kessler, in the group behind.”

With these strange dynamics, it was no wonder that the four leaders were caught 4km from the finish, just as they began the long. snaking descent of the Sibbergrubbe into the streets of Valkenberg. Their capture by the small chase group came at the same time as another 25 men tagged on to the back to make a 40-strong lead group going in to the finale. It was clear that this 40th edition of the Amstel Gold Race was going to end in a field sprint.

But the Amstel finish is no longer the flat one it was six years ago in the city of Maastricht when Boogerd won this race from Armstrong. It’s now on the summit of the Cauberg, a hill that climbs through 200 vertical feet in 750 meters, with a mean grade of 8 percent and a steepest pitch of 14 percent 350 meters from the line.

With the Kroon card a dud, and with Boogerd stymied in his hopes of making an earlier attack, Rabobank’s tactic was now to go with Freire’s sprint. But on a steep climb? Maybe it was a smart decision, because the Spaniard did win three stages of Tirreno-Adriatico a month ago, on finishes that were similar (but not so steep) as the Cauberg.



Photo: Graham Watson

Having chosen this tactic, Rabobank delegated Erik Dekker to set the pace on the approaches to the final climb, a job he did with skill and strength. Then it was Boogerd’s turn to play the team role. “I knew I had to lead it out for Oscar,” said Boogerd, who did just that on the first slopes of the Cauberg. “But then I had this intuition that Freire wasn’t on my wheel anymore.”

He was right. The world champion was struggling. But now Boogerd was in a dilemma. He was at the front already, not the best place to be to make a sprint against such formidable uphill finish specialists as the Italians Di Luca, Rebellin and Celestino. So what should he do?

“If I’d done my own sprint, I would have taken the wheel of Di Luca, but I was already at the front,” Boogerd continued, “so I didn’t have any choice except try to win from the front.”

It was a valiant effort, similar to the sprint Boogerd made at the Amstel two years ago to take second, behind solo winner Alex Vinokourov and ahead of Di Luca.

“Were you thinking of that sprint two years ago?” Di Luca was asked by a journalist. “Yes,” replied the Italian. “It was the same thing happened. Boogerd went with 300 meters still to go, and I knew I had to make a very, very long sprint.”

It was a sprint that Di Luca lost in 2003; but, on his own admission, he is in much better shape this spring. “I saw I had very good condition in the Basque Country, so I was confident I could win today.”

And he did, coming past Boogerd in the final, flatter 100 meters to take his first major classic win since the Tour of Lombardy four years ago. Boogerd stayed strong to take another second place, while Celestino made a late burst to overtake Rebellin, with Spaniard Miguel Martin Perdiguero (Phonak) coming through to take fifth.

Etxebarria on the attack

Etxebarria on the attack

Photo: Graham Watson

Other finishes of note were the eighth place of Etxebarria, a fine performance after his big efforts made in the breakaway group, and the 12th place (only two spots behind Freire) of former world champion Igor Astarloa (Barloworld). The Spaniard was doing only his third race of the season after breaking his left wrist in the Classic Haribo race just two months ago.

With his Amstel Gold Race and Basque Country victories, Di Luca has moved up to third place in the UCI ProTour rankings. With 91 total points, the resurgent Italian has a two-point deficit on second-place Alessandro Petacchi, and is 21 points behind current leader Tom Boonen. As neither of these two is racing at the Flèche Wallonne or Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Di Luca looks set to take over the top spot by the end of the week.

Photo: Graham Watson

“The ProTour is one of my big goals for the season,” confirmed Di Luca, who in a two-week stretch has gone from “over the hill” to “on top of the world.”

“I really want to win at Liège next Sunday,” he said, “For me, it is the most prestigious and most beautiful classic of all. It’s always been my dream to win it, and it’s well within my capabilities now.”

No one would deny that. Not even Michael Boogerd – who, uh, uh, has twice finished second at Liège in the past six years.Full Results

There were only three North Americans in Sunday’s race, all on Discovery Channel. George Hincapie ran out of steam in the final hour to fade to 67th place, 3:20 down; Ryder Hesjedal came across the line a quarter-hour behind the winner, but like teammate Patrick McCarty, who finished another five minutes later, he was not given a time or position. Only 100 riders officially finished the race, with those like Hesjedal and McCarty arriving outside the UCI’s arbitrary time limit.

There were no live TV images of the race until the last kilometer because the communications helicopter were not able to fly, and so there was no signal between the TV motorcycles and the satellite dishes.1. Danilo Di Luca (I), Liquigas
2. Michael Boogerd (Nl), Rabobank
3. Mirko Celestino (I), Domina Vacanze
4. Davide Rebellin (I), Gerolsteiner
5. Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Sp), Phonak
6. Patrik Sinkewitz (G), QuickStep
7. Bjorn Leukemans (B), Davitamon-Lotto
8. David Etxebarria Alkorta (Sp), Liberty Seguros
9. Jerome Pineau (F), Bouygues Telecom
10. Oscar Freire Gomez (Sp), Rabobank

To see how today’s race developed, simply CLICK HERE to bring up our Live Coverage window.

Photo Gallery


Results – 40th Amstel Gold Race
1. Danilo Di Luca (I), Liquigas, 6:21:07

2. Michael Boogerd (Nl), Rabobank

3. Mirko Celestino (I), Domina Vacanze

4. Davide Rebellin (I), Gerolsteiner

5. Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Sp), Phonak

6. Patrik Sinkewitz (G), QuickStep

7. Bjorn Leukemans (B), Davitamon-Lotto

8. David Etxebarria Alkorta (Sp), Liberty Seguros

9. Jerome Pineau (F), Bouygues Telecom

10. Oscar Freire Gomez (Sp), Rabobank

11. Kim Kirchen (Lux), Fassa Bortolo, all same time

12. Igor Astarloa Ascasibar (Sp), Barloworld, at 0:10

13. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Sp), Ill

14. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor), CSC

15. Stefan Schumacher (G), Shimano-Memory Corp.

16. Constantino Zaballa Gutierrez (Sp), Saunier Duval

17. Johan Coenen (B), MrBookmaker

19. Pieter Mertens (B), Chocolade Jacques-T Interim

20. Manuele Mori (I), Saunier Duval, all s.t.

21. Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe), Liquigas, at 0:17

22. Matthias Kessler (G), T-Mobile, s.t.

23. Uros Murn (SLO), Phonak, at 0:19

24. Inigo Landaluze Intxaurraga (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi

25. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Sp), Phonak

26. Jens Voigt (G), CSC

27. Axel Merckx (B), Davitamon-Lotto

28. Nicki Sørensen (Dk), CSC, at 0:21

29. Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Sp), Saunier Duval, at 0:29

30. Alexandre Moos (Swi), Phonak, at 0:33

31. Marc Lotz (Nl), QuickStep, at 0:36

32. Erik Dekker (Nl), Rabobank

33. Thomas Dekker (Nl), Rabobank

34. Vladimir Gusev (Rus), CSC, all s.t.

35. Steffen Wesemann (G), T-Mobile, at 0:42

36. Rik Verbrugghe (B), QuickStep, s.t.

37. Paolo Bettini (I), QuickStep, at 0:47

38. Bram Tankink (Nl), QuickStep, s.t.

39. Karsten Kroon (Nl), Rabobank, at 0:50

40. Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz), Crédit Agricole, at 0:52

41. Markus Zberg (Swi), Gerolsteiner, at 1:58

42. Angel Vicioso Arcos (Sp), Liberty Seguros

43. Heinrich Haussler (G), Gerolsteiner

44. Bradley Wiggins (GB), Crédit Agricole

45. Fabian Wegmann (G), Gerolsteiner, all s.t.

46. Alexandre Botcharov (Rus), Crédit Agricole, at 2:02

47. Volodymyr Bileka (Ukr), Discovery Channel

48. Maarten Wijnants (B), Chocolade Jacques-T Interim

49. Erik Zabel (G), T-Mobile

50. Pieter Weening (Nl), Rabobank

51. Massimo Codol (I), Fassa Bortolo

52. Konstantin Sivtsov (Rus), Fassa Bortolo

53. Steven Kleynen (B), Chocolade Jacques-T Interim

54. Kevin De Weert (B), QuickStep

55. Patrick Calcagni (Swi), Liquigas

56. Dmitri Fofonov (Kaz), Cofidis

57. Gorazd Stangelj (SLO), Lampre-Caffita

58. Ivan Basso (I), CSC

59. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), T-Mobile

60. Sylvain Chavanel (F), Cofidis

61. Andrea Moletta (I), Gerolsteiner, all s.t.

62. Patxi Xabier Vila Errandonea (Sp), Lampre – Caffita, at 2:10

63. Laurent Brochard (F), Bouygues Telecom, s.t.

64. Johan Vansummeren (B), Davitamon-Lotto, at 2:14

65. Leon Van Bon (Nl), Davitamon-Lotto, 2:36

66. Benjamin Noval Gonzales (Sp), Discovery Channel, 3:02

67. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery Channel, s.t.

68. Christophe Moreau (F), Crédit Agricole, at 3:36

69. Thomas Voeckler (F), Bouygues Telecom

70. Vicente Reynes Mimo (Sp), Illes Balears, 3:39

71. Preben Vanhecke (B), Davitamon-Lotto

72. Sergey Lagutin (UZB), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago

73. Nicolas Jalabert (F), Phonak

74. Sergei Ivanov (Rus), T-Mobile

75. Rolf Aldag (G), T-Mobile, all s.t.

76. Addy Engels (Nl), QuickStep, at 3:49

77. Franco Pellizotti (I), Liquigas

78. Filippo Pozzato (I), QuickStep

79. David Loosli (Swi), Lampre – Caffita, all s.t.

80. Fabian Jeker (Swi), Saunier Duval, at 4:09

81. Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 5:07

82. Erwin Thijs (B), MrBookmaker, s.t.

83. Ruslan Ivanov (MDA), Domina Vacanze, at 5:28

84. Paolo Valoti (I), Domina Vacanze

85. Maarten Den Bakker (Nl), Rabobank

86. Pavel Padrnos (Cz), Discovery Channel

87. Angel Castresana Del Val (Sp), MrBookmaker

88. Christophe Mengin (F), Française des Jeux

89. Mauro Facci (I), Fassa Bortolo

90. Martin Elmiger (Swi), Phonak

91. Bert Grabsch (G), Phonak

92. Christophe Le Mevel (F), Crédit Agricole

93. Kjell Carlström (FIN), Liquigas

94. Matthew White (Aus), Cofidis

95. Bert Dewaele (B), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago

96. Massimo Giunti (I), Fassa Bortolo, at 5:39

97. Frank Schleck (Lux), CSC, at 5:46

98. Oliver Zaugg (Swi), Saunier Duval, at 5:53

99. Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Sp), Liberty Seguros, at 6:22

100. Daniele Righi (I), Lampre – Caffita, at 7:04

101. Laurens Ten Dam (Nl), Shimano-Memory Corp.

102. Frederik Willems (B), Chocolade Jacques-T Interim

103. Salvatore Commesso (I), Lampre-Caffita

104. Alessandro Ballan (I), Lampre-Caffita

105. Pedro Arreitunandia (Sp), Barloworld

106. Thierry Marichal (B), Cofidis

107. Jörg Jäksche (G), Liberty Seguros

108. Marcos Antonio Serrano Rodriguez (Sp), Liberty Seguros

109. Bingen Fernandez Bustinza (Sp), Cofidis

111. Benoit Joachim (Lux), Discovery Channel

112. Peter Farazijn (B), Cofidis

113. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN), Discovery Channel

115. Joost Posthuma (Nl), Rabobank

116. Anthony Geslin (F), Bouygues Telecom

117. Tiaan Kannemeyer (RSA), Barloworld

118. Matthé Pronk (Nl), MrBookmaker

119. Eelke Van Der Wal (Nl), Shimano-Memory Corp.

120. Alessandro Bertolini (I), Domina Vacanze

121. Didier Rous (F), Bouygues Telecom

122. Markel Irizar Aranburu (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi

123. Isidro Nozal Vega (Sp), Liberty Seguros, all s.t.

ProTour Standings – as of Sunday, April 17, 2005

1. Tom Boonen (B) Quickstep 112 points

2. Alessandro Petacchi (I) Fassa Bortolo 93

3. Danilo Di Luca (I) Liquigas-Bianchi 91

4. Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank 79

5. George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 75

6. Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC 75

7. Danilo Hondo (G) Gerolsteiner 70

8. Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 65

9. Davide Rebellin (I) Gerolsteiner 61

10. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole 55

11. Michael Boogerd (Nl) Rabobank 45

12. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Illes Balears 43

13. Andreas Klier (G) T-Mobile 41

14. Nico Mattan (B) Davitamon-Lotto 40

15. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Liberty Seguros 36

16. Peter Van Petegem (B) Davitamon-Lotto 35

17. Fabrizio Guidi (I) Phonak 35

18. Constantino Zaballa Gutierrez (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir 35

19. Erik Zabel (G) T-Mobile 33

20. Jens Voigt (G) Team CSC 32

21. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo 31

22. Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis 31

23. Magnus Bäckstedt (Swe) Liquigas-Bianchi 30

24. Aitor Osa Eizaguirre (Spa) Illes Balears 30

25. Leon Van Bon (Nl) Davitamon-Lotto 30

26. Mirko Celestino (I) Domina Vacanze 25

27. Daniele Bennati (I) Lampre-Caffita 25

28. Lars Michaelsen (Dk) Team CSC 25

29. Jörg Jaksche (G) Liberty Seguros 25

30. Franco Pellizotti (I) Liquigas-Bianchi 25

31. Roberto Petito (I) Fassa Bortolo 25

32. Laurent Brochard (F) Bouygues Telecom 25

33. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Spa) Phonak 20

34. Philippe Gilbert (B) Française des Jeux 20

35. Alessandro Ballan (I) Lampre-Caffita 20

36. Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Spa) Phonak 15

37. Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC 15

38. Angel Vicioso Arcos (Spa) Liberty Seguros 15

39. Patrik Sinkewitz (G) Quickstep 11

40. Baden Cooke (Aus) Française des Jeux 11

41. Michael Rogers (Aus) Quickstep 10

42. Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 10

43. Markus Zberg (Swi) Gerolsteiner 10

44. Björn Leukemans (B) Davitamon-Lotto 7

45. Tom Steels (B) Davitamon-Lotto 7

46. David Etxebarria Alkorta (Spa) Liberty Seguros 5

47. Damiano Cunego (I) Lampre-Caffita 5

48. Patrice Halgand (F) Crédit Agricole 5

49. José Angel Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir 5

50. Serguei Ivanov (Rus) T-Mobile 5

51. Simone Cadamuro (I) Domina Vacanze 5

52. Jérôme Pineau (F) Bouygues Telecom 3

53. Arnaud Coyot (F) Cofidis 1

54. Manuele Momri (I) Saunier Duval-Prodir 1

55. Vicente Reynes Mimo (Spa) Illes Balears 1

56. Vladimir Gussev (Rus) Team CSC 1

57. Joost Posthuma (Nl) Rabobank 1

58. Servais Knaven (Nl) Quickstep 1

59. David Moncoutié (F) Cofidis 1

60. Gilberto Simoni (I) Lampre-Caffita 1