Amstel’16: The Great Gaspa!
Race Report: There couldn’t have been a better result to the Amstel Gold Race for the Wanty-Groupe Gobert team than a win from Enrico Gasparotto and the heartfelt dedication to his teammate Antoine Demoitié. The racing was slow to start, but when it did. . .
We did tip him in our preview – Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty-Groupe Gobert & Italy) was the strongest, smartest and most highly motivated at the end of an Amstel Gold Race which started as a sleep walk but delivered a brilliant finalé as ‘The Great Gaspa’ out foxed Tinkoff’s Danish strongman Michael Valgren over the top of the legendary Cauberg climb.
Italy’s Sonny Colbrelli was ‘best of the rest’ for Bardiani-CSF, pipping Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie & France) for the last podium place. Big favourite, Aussie Michael Matthews couldn’t capitalise on a huge workload from his Orica-GreenEDGE team and fifth was as good as he could get. Whilst wily old fox ‘Gaspa’ turned back the clock from his 34 years, Valgren and particularly Coquard announced themselves as Classics stars of the future. A real ‘slow burner’ of a race the tension built as the K’s clicked down to a finale which was of the very highest order. . .
The early news was that talented Tiesj Benoot (Lotto & Belgium) was out with sickness and then, coming up to the first hour at around 35/40K the ‘break of the day’ went with Laurens De Vreese (Astana), Tom Devriendt (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Laurent Didier (Trek-Segafredo), Alex Howes (Cannondale), Matteo Montaguti (AG2R-La Mondiale), Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida), Kevin Reza (FDJ), Larry Warbasse (IAM Cycling), Josef Cerny (CCC-Sprandi) , Fabien Grellier (Direct Energy) and Giacomo Berlato (Nippo). It didn’t take them long to zoom out to four minutes then five, first time up the infamous Cauberg.
Possibly with memories of the damage the early break did in Paris-Roubaix, the big teams like Sky and Etixx – Quick-Step are keeping the renegades in check at around the four/five minutes mark – and it stayed like that for a loooong time.
As with Liege-Bastogne-Liege everyone is waiting for the final climb, in this case the Cauberg where the decision is always made – perhaps it’s time to change the parcours?
With 100K to go now, Sky are to the fore, practically the whole Murdoch team is up there, with the gap at three minutes to the 11 up the road who keep at the job in hand, climb after climb. . . Is the bunch too big for the roads or the road too small for the bunch? – whichever it is, it’s dangerous out there with all those narrow roads, roundabouts, bends and road furniture. ‘The biggest criterium in the world,’ ace climber Robert Millar used to call it.
The break hits the Cauberg at 89K to go, the crowds are huge; those bars in Valkenburg will be doing great business today – we visited a few when the Worlds were here in 2012. The 11 are working well, keeping the gap at three-and-a-half minutes despite Sky’s efforts; Kwiatkowski is taking no chances and is riding well to the fore – as a real champion should do. Orica-GreenEDGE have Durbridge up there too; they have two big faves today – Matthews and Gerrans.
Rodriguez has crashed, let’s hope he’s OK, the Amstel isn’t really his race, not with that long flat after the summit of the Cauberg. Rodriguez comes back to the fold and still the gap is 3:21 despite the efforts of ‘Durbo’ and Sky the 11 in the break aren’t playing games, spelling nicely.
For the first time the gap drops under three minutes as Lotto Soudal (Van Der Sande) and Etixx – Quick-Step (Meersman) counter attack with just over 60 K to go; there’s a Wanty-Groupe Gobert (Thurau) and a Trek-Segarfedo (Bonifazio) with them.
The crashes are coming thick and fast – Clements and Bole are out of the race as our four impatient men try hard to join the 11 anti-social elements who’ve been away all afternoon, shunning the peloton.
Inside 50K left and the sky opens; that’s the sky above, not Rupert’s men, lovely spring sunshine has given way to sheeting rain as the 11 begin to feel the chill – arm warmers and gilets are all back in the cars. Yet another climb, the break begins to splinter – the gang of four are about 90 seconds back with a cold, wet peloton another minute plus back.
Sky grind along at the front of the peloton, Kwiatkowski can’t rely on help in the last few K’s with the amount of watts his team is burning right now. Howes drives the break on the Kruisberg – it’s wet, cold and painful and five or six of the 11 desperadoes have popped.
Howes, Montaguti, De Vreese, Bono are left. . . It looks like the four chasers have stalled; they can’t get that last minute back. Meanwhile, Albasini kicks out of the peloton for Orica-GreenEDGE but they haul him back. Vanmarcke kicks, nada – but these kicks are eating away at the breakaway’s lead. As Scottish ex-Peugeot and Raleigh pro, Billy Bilsland used to say; ‘the race is the last hour – but you have to get there!’
Impey pushes it on for GreenEDGE as the sun puts his hat on, again – the peloton is a long, damp uncomfortable line through the fertile fields of Limburg. The Keutenberg, at 22% with 30 K to go allegedly the steepest climb in The Netherlands sees some real pain on the faces of the break and chasers – as the peloton snuffs out the chase group, all except Van Der Sande who joins a little group which has slipped of the front – but it doesn’t look like it will last.
It’s blowing apart now, wet narrow roads, mud, bends, wind all sap the morale once the gaps open. The break survivors only have on the minute now as behind the peloton has split – the likes of Gilbert has been caught out. We have sunshine again and rapidly drying roads as Dumoulin slides out the back. The break hits the Cauberg with the diminished peloton close behind – a pack of rabid, feral dogs in search of a wounded prey. The break stays clear over the top with 19K to go as they take the bell.
Kwiatkowski has popped; we didn’t expect that one – and still the break is clear, a great ride from Howes, De Vreese, Bono, Montaguti and Warbasse as they climb yet another hill with 16K to go. Albasini drives the peloton with team mate Impey close by; protégé Alaphilippe is there for QuickStep and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) too – but it’s over now for the break as the peloton comes across with 14K to go.
And now power house Hayman picks it up for GreenEDGE with a certain Enrico Gasparotto looking dangerous near the head of affairs – but it’s the Aussie team in control with Matthews tucked neatly in. It looks ‘steady’ in the peloton but with Hayman in the 11 and 12 sprockets that’s an illusion – he peels off, job done.
Warbasse comes back to the front – wow! Then it’s Albasini back on the front as Boasson Hagen pops. Former winner Kreuziger tries his hand for Tinkoff; Wellens (Lotto Soudal) comes across to him and Kreuziger can do nothing. The aggressive Belgian is 12/13 seconds clear, he’s on the plateau before the drop to Valkenburg, the tight left hander past the pubs and the horror that is the Cauberg.
Inside five to go and Wellens has 17 seconds as he starts the drop to Valkenburg – Albasini gives every last drop of energy on the front of the peloton as Peter Serry comes up to help for Quick-Step. Wellens is on the climb of the Cauberg, the crowd urges him on, he’s killing himself – the peloton plays poker but Gasparotto is battering a huge gear, he passes Wellens like he’s road furniture and he’s clear.
Tinkoff Dane Valgren joins Gaspa, the little Italian gets the Dane to come through over the top but then plays poker, hiding his tiny frame behind the big Dane – 200 to go, Valgren settles for a podium as the former Italian Champion kicks, he’s clear! Enrico Gasparotto wins the 2016 Amstel Gold race in brilliant fashion.
A great win for Gaspa, his Wanty squad and his late team mate Antoine Demoitié – and another terrific race for us to savour. Bike racing at its best.
Amstel Gold Race Result:
1. Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Wanty-Groupe Gobert in 6:18:02
2. Michael Valgren (Den) Tinkoff
3. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bardiani-CSF at 0:04
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
9. Loïc Vliegen (Bel) BMC
10. Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal
11. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEDGE
12. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff
13. Jan Bakelants (Bel) AG2R-La Mondiale
14. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
15. Warren Barguil (Fra) Giant-Alpecin
16. Maurits Lammertink (Ned) Roompot-Oranje Peloton
17. Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida
18. Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC
19. Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ
20. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Movistar
21. Floris De Tier (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise
22. Diego Rosa (Ita) Astana
23. Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNl-Jumbo
24. Jon Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Movistar
25. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal.