Spanish road race champion jumps from Valverde's helper to a near-podium finish in a big classic, spends last 40km of demanding Amstel Gold Race into elite field. Gilbert (QST) wins
A move destined to cover Alejandro Valverde’s back ended up bringing him an excellent individual result. José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar Team) gave all he had in the 52nd edition of the Amstel Gold Race – one of the longest (261km), hardest races of the season in the Limburg hills of the Netherlands – and eventually took 5th into a pursuit group just 10″ behind Philippe Gilbert (QST, 1st) and Michal Kwiatkowski (SKY, 2nd), the two strongest riders into a race exciting as few others in previous editions of the Ardennes trio.
The decisive split was made at the Kruisberg, 38km from the end. Rojas, together with Ion Izagirre (TBM), successfully bridged back to an elite, six-man group including Henao (SKY), Albasini (ORS), Haas (DDD), Lindeman (TLJ), Gilbert and Benoot (LTS), who would later be dropped from the lead. After several minutes pushing hard at a handful of seconds back, the group containing Alejandro Valverde conceded all chances at the flat immediately following the Keutenberg climb (28km to go), where Kwiatkowski jumped across to make the leaders’ group while Van Avermaet (BMC) and ‘Bala’ followed without success.
“Really struggling”, as he said on Twitter after the race, yet with all courage a man can have after coming back in magnificent form following his leg injury in the 2016 Vuelta a España, Spanish road race champion Rojas could barely remain on the wheel of such strong rivals, only managing to take some turns as Kwiatkowski and Gilbert went for glory into the Bemelerberg, 5km from the finish. It was still a more-than-satisfying 5th spot, behind Albasini and Haas, for the man from Murcia, surely happy to get back into supporting duties for his countryman and friend Valverde at next week’s Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.