Simon Gerrans equalled his best Amstel Gold Race finish on Sunday. The Australian punctuated a tactically sound race ridden by his ORICA-GreenEDGE teammates with an acceleration on the final ascent of the Cauberg. Matching the pace of Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Gerrans took second in the chase group sprint to claim the final step of the podium.
“I’m satisfied with the result,” said Gerrans. “Everybody did their jobs perfectly. When you do what you plan to do and it doesn’t eventuate into the hoped for result, you still have to be happy. It’s unfortunate that we weren’t racing for the win at the end, but a podium finish in a big race like Amstel Gold is still satisfying.”
The sun came out for the start of the first of three Ardennes Classics. Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp) instigated what would eventually become the early escape. Joined by Tim De Troyer and Nicolas Vogondy (both Accent Jobs-Wanty), Alexandre Pliuschin (IAM), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Arthur Van Overberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Klaas Sys (Crelan-Euphony), Van Summeren spearheaded a move that would balloon out beyond 11 minutes by the mid-point of the race.
The race unfolded calmly as Cannondale controlled the chase until a crash in the peloton disrupted the tempo. Shortly before the second ascent of the Cauberg, several pre-race favourites hit the ground. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) bore the brunt of the incident and was taken to hospital for a suspected broken collarbone. As chaos unfolded around them, the ORICA-GreenEDGE riders looked after their leader.
Sixty kilometres from the finish, Astarloza and Vansummeren attacked their break companions. Pliuschin managed to regain contact, but a further dig from Astarloza disposed of both riders. Astarloza was now the lone leader.
As the remnants of the break came into sight, Pieter Weening attacked from the peloton. He powered past Vansummeren and caught up to Pliuschin. The latter managed to jump into his wake. The duo pedaled towards Astarloza as an organized chased formed behind them. Twenty-five kilometres from the finish, Astarloza had 1’24” on Weening, Lars Petter Nordhaug and David Tanner (both Blanco), Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Roman Kreuziger (Team Saxo-Tinkoff).
“With Pieter up the road, we could just sit back and follow counter attacks,” noted Gerrans. “That was Michael Albasini’s job. He followed moves, and we saved our energy for the final.”
Although the peloton was unable to coordinate a concerted chase, individual riders manage to bridge across. The group of five swelled to nine with Astarloza swalloed up 17 kilometres from the finish. Nordhaug attacked on the Bemlberg, and only Weening, Kreuziger and Giampaolo Carusa (Katusha) could follow. Kreuziger countered the move and immediately opened a gap. It would become the race winning move.
By the time Kreuziger hit the Cauberg for the final ascent ahead of the finish, he had 15” on the peloton. It proved a sufficient gap to take the race win.
“It was full gas up the Cauberg,” said Gerrans. “Simon Clarke and Daryl Impey put me in the perfect position. I was third or fourth wheel at the base of the Cauberg. Right as I was about to make my move, Gilbert got past me. We powered past everyone from Pieter’s break except for Kreuziger.”
“Gilbert gapped me over the top,” Gerrans continued. “I had Valverde on my wheel, and he came around me on the summit and dropped me. I caught him, and together, we caught Gilbert. Then, it was a sprint for second.”
Gilbert opened the sprint, but both Valverde and Gerrans were able to come around the World Champion with Valverde edging out Gerans for second place.