As classics fans reel from the Flanders and northern France cobbled races, the first of three Ardennes Classics took place on Sunday. Italian Enrico Gasparotto of the Wanty-Groupe Gobert surprised the field when he made a late attack on the penultimate climb of the 248.7km race. His display of strength proved to be unmatchable for the hesitant bunch.
Though Limberg in the Netherlands is actually North of the Ardennes region, the Amstel Gold Race, now in it’s 51st edition, becomes part of those classics with the Fléche-Wallonne and Liége-Bastogne-Liége to follow later in April.
Rain fell heavily on the field throughout the race as they navigated the twists and turns of the some-what complicated route that might mirror a failed attempt at the current “Strava Art” trend. Riders battled the 34 climbs, one almost every 7km of the race. There were a number of climbs that riders familiarised themselves with including the Cauberg which appeared four times. Firstly at 197.2km to go (climb #6), then at 89.2km to go (#22), 21.1km to go (#31) and as the final climb of the race.
Early break-aways never escaped the fast pace of the peloton until 11 riders slipped out after the 34km mark. Alex Howes (CANNONDALE), Laurent Didier (TREK), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r), Laurens De Vreese (ASTANA), Matteo Bono (LAMPRE), Kevin Reza (FDJ), Larry Warbasse (IAM), Fabien Grellier (DIRECT ENERGIE), Giacomo Berlato (NIPPO – VINI FANTINI), Tom Devriendt (WANTY) and Josef Cerny (CCC) were among the escapees that held their lead at over 5 minutes at the 200km-to-go mark before the Cauberg.
Team Sky and Orica-GreenEDGE were driving the peloton forward and closing the gap with favorite and defending champion Michal Kwiatkowski in the mix, however the Pole slipped out the back of the bunch along with other favorites Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Edvald Boasson Hagen (DIMENSION DATA) and Tom Dumoulin (GIANT-ALPECIN) also cracking under the increased pace. Orica-GreenEDGE had Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans in a good position for the last few kilometres.
In the dying moments a flying attack by Lotto-Soudal rider Tim Wellens flew straight past the solo Tinkoff rider Roman Kreuziger and onto the last accent of the Cauberg with a 19 second buffer. It wasn’t soon after that Enrico Gasparotto (WANTY) made the decisive move to attack in front of a hesitant bunch. Danish Tinkoff rider Michael Valgren followed Gasparotto’s attack.
With only 1.9km to go Valgren found himself on the front of the two-man break with Wellens unable to continue his pace up the Cauberg and Gasparotto biding his time.
Gasparotto gassed it passed his counterpart in the final 200 meters to take his second victory after his 2012 win.
The winner dedicated his emotional victory to the fallen Wanty-Groupe Gobert rider Antoine Demoitié who was tragically hit and killed by a race motorcycle at the Gent-Wevelgem this year.
Our Australian rider Michael Matthews would have to settle for fifth place after the bunch sprint.
1. Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) – Wanty-Groupe Gobert – 6:18:02
2. Michael Valgren (Den) – Tinkoff Team
3. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) – Bardiani CSF – 0:00:04
4. Bryan Coquard (Fra) – Direct Energie
5. Michael Matthews (Aus) – Orica-GreenEdge
6. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) – Etixx – Quick-Step
7. Diego Ulissi (Ita) – Lampre – Merida
8. Giovanni Visconti (Ita) – Movistar Team
9. Loic Vliegen (Bel) – BMC Racing Team
10. Tim Wellens (Bel) – Lotto Soudal