Amstel Gold Race
Movistar Team leader (2nd) beaten by Kwiatkowski (EQS) into Amstel Gold Race sprint after insistence from team-mates, good reaction by Bala to final attacks into Cauberg
Alejandro Valverde's endless regularity in the Ardennes classics lived another chapter on Sunday during the 50th edition of the Amstel Gold Race, first race of the hills' trio over 258km including 34 'hellingen' in the Dutch region of Limburg. The Spanish rider from the Movistar Team took 2nd behind world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, the decisive part of the race again reduced, like in previous editions, to the last ascent of the Cauberg.
Before that climb, the Movistar Team had spent most of the race working at the front of the bunch in favour of their leader. The impulse by Sutherland, Erviti and Sütterlin into the flat was later continued by Rojas and a remarkable Gorka Izagirre, all attentive to help Valverde out after a puncture with 45km remaining and later control a dangerous move featuring Tony Martin (EQS) and Vincenzo Nibali (AST). Valverde came in perfect position into the left-hand turn leading into the Cauberg and, though initially behind, the Murcia-based rider overcame strongly into the false flat after the hardest part of the ascent to chase down Gilbert (BMC) and Matthews (OGE), the ones hitting harder into the hill.
The late regrouping forced Valverde to face a field sprint where he claimed his third podium finish in the Amstel Gold -2nd in 2008, 3rd in 2013- and the 11th in all three Ardennes classics combined. The Movistar Team star's condition has been nonetheless proven again in the eve of the Flèche Wallonne (Wednesday 22nd), where he will defend his brilliant win from 2014.
REACTION / Alejandro Valverde: “I think you can’t ask for a better result after what I did today; taking 2nd 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… we did everything we could. The incident wasn’t a puncture, but a broken gear. An MTN rider got the radius of his front wheel into my rear one and I had to stop and take the spare bike. It’s true that the race was really on already at that point, but with my team-mates, it wasn’t a problem at all.
“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 attacked, 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 2nd, came really close, fought as usual… I think we must stay happy with that.
“For me, Liège is the race out of the three where I think I stand more chances, the one that suits me best, but of course we mustn’t rule anything out for Wednesday. The new climb [Cherave] with 5km to go should change the race and make the peloton ride faster and become a bit smaller at the end. I think there are many, many riders in similar form, I didn’t see anyone standing out – the battle will be close, as well on Wednesday as on Sunday.”