Cycling’s “Ardennes Week,” three One-Day Classics in seven days, began Sunday with the Amstel Gold race. 260 kilometers long with 31 climbs—all short but some really steep—capped with a hilltop finish, the course was tough enough to drain the strongest riders, and it did.
Astana’s Enrico Gasparotto took the win while some of the strongest riders in cycling—Peter Sagan, Phillip Gilbert, and Oscar Freire—faded on the run to the line.
Gasparotto told the TV cameras he was motivated by his memory of the 2010 race, where he almost had second but faded just before the finish line.
“I arrived third two years ago and it was possible to arrive second, but in the last 20 meter I went too slow,” he explained. “This year I remembered that.
“I was really concentrated for today’s race because I feel this is a race for me, perfect for me. My teammates did a good job for me; they stayed with me all day. For me, after 2005 when I won the Italian championship, it is another big victory.”
The race started with nine riders getting away 50 km. into the day, and staying away for 180 kilometers—enough to win most races. However, here they had another 30 km to go, and the peloton was too powerful. Two riders, Romain Bardet (AG2R) and Alex Howes (Garmin) tried to press on alone, but they were swallowed up nine km out.
Oscar Friere (Katusha) made a huge attack seven km from the line, and came within 50 meters of succeeding. Two-time winner Philip Gilbert took off in pursuit with two km to go, with Peter Sagan (Liquigas,), Jelle Vanendert (Lotto,) and Gasparotto in tow.
Gilbert burned out 100 meters from the finish. The other three passed him and caught Friere 50 meters out; Sagan faded in the final sprint and Gasparotto saved his final burst until the final few meters, rocketing past Vanendert to win by a length-and-a-half.
Ardennes Week continues Wednesday with Fleche-Wallone and wraps up next Sunday, the 22nd, with Liege-Bastogne-Liege.