Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) took charge of the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday in Holland. He led the chase of Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek), caught him and held on for a second consecutive win.
“When Andy attacked, he did it at the right moment,” Gilbert explained. “Fortunately, I had Jelle Vanendert with me and he worked. We didn’t panic.”
Schleck attacked after the Keutenberg climb with 12 kilometres to race. Solo, the Luxembourger pulled away with 15 seconds, but it came to nothing on the final climb up the Cauberg.
Gilbert, the race’s favourite and last year’s winner, relied on team-mates Jurgen Van den Broeck and Vanendert. All three had made the final winning move of around 18 men. After Vanendert worked, Gilbert himself chased Schleck into Valkenburg and the base of the Cauberg climb.
“When he had a gap of 15 to 16 seconds, I thought it was too much,” Gilbert added, “I asked for Rabobank’s help, but then didn’t want to do it. I was the favourite for this race. I had to do it.”
Schleck slid back after Gilbert caught him and finished in 11th. Spaniard Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) came the closest to stopping Gilbert, finishing second. Sky’s Simon Gerrans took third.
“I’d never been so close to witness an attack like that,” said Gerrans. “Gilbert and some of these guys have the legs for these one-day races, this is my first long one of the season.”
Gilbert not only defended his title, but also added to his win in the Brabantse Pijl one-day classic on Wednesday in Belgium. Earlier this season, he won a stage at the Tour of Algarve and Tirreno-Adriatico, and one-day race Strade Bianche. Neither his pre-race favourite status or the day’s earlier escapes stood in his way.
Four riders – Simone Ponzi (Liquigas), Pierpaolo De Negri (Farnese Vini), Albert Timmer (Skil), Thomas Degand (Verandas Willems) – escaped after the fourth of 31 climbs, the Bergseweg.
Rabobank took the race under control and pulled back the escape after the second ascent of the Cauberg. Spain’s Carlos Barredo followed up an earlier attack by Spanish team-mate Luis Leon Sanchez and rocketed ahead on the Geulhemmerweg.
The lead groups of the Amstel Gold Race came together for the final 35 kilometres. Schleck’s Leopard team-mates, Fabian Cancellara and brother Fränk Schleck, crashed with 24 kilometres to race. Cancellara slid along the ground and nearly caused Fränk Schleck to crash. Schleck’s bad luck continued, his rear wheel locked, but his brother was making moves ahead.
“We lost Fabian and Fränk at a decisive moment, but I had to make the best of the situation,” said Andy Schleck. “It was a big group, it was not in my favour, but I had to go full gas at that moment.”
Schleck said it was a well-timed attack, pointing to his bother’s winning attack at nearly the same point in 2006.
Rodriguez jumped first on the Cauberg to catch Schleck, but Gilbert marked him and won. Gerrans marked Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) behind to take third.
Gerrans’ team-mate Steve Cummings was the top-placed Brit in 57th. Ireland’s Philip Deignan (RadioShack) placed 44th.
Amstel Gold Race 2011
1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto in 6-30-44
2. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 2 secs
3. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Sky at 4 secs
4. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard-Trek at 5 secs
5. Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Katusha at same time
6. Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank at same time
7. Bjorn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM at 7 secs
8. Ben Hermans (Bel) Radioshack at 18 secs
9. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 19 secs
10. Paul Martens (Ger) Rabobank at 26 secs
Philippe Gilbert wins
Podium (l-r): Simon Gerrans (third), Philippe Gilbert (winner), Joaquin Rodriguez (second)