Philippe Gilbert wins the Amstel Gold Race for the third time
BMC Racing rider returns to scene of world championship victory to attack on Cauberg and win again
A big week in the Spring Classics has begun with Philipe Gilbert of BMC Racing of winning the Amstel Gold Race for the third time, with Jelle Vanendert of Lotto-Belisol second and Orica-GreenEdge's Simon Gerrans third.
Around 30 or so riders were in contention as the leading group hit the last of the day's 34 climbs, the Cauberg, being tackled for the fourth time in this afternoon's race.
Samuel Sanchez of BMC Racing made a big push at the start of the climb, splitting up the group and paving the way for Gilbert to make his bid for glory.
Initially only Alejandro Valverde of Movistar, Orica-GreenEdge's Simon Gerrans and Michal Kwiatowski of Omega Pharma-Quick Step were able to mount any kind of response, but the Belgian left them trailing.
When he achieved the Ardennes treble in 2011, winning Amstel Gold, the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the finish line for the first of those races was at the top of the Cauberg.
Nowadays, it's positioned 1.8km after the top of the climb, but the extra distance holds fond memories for Gilbert - it's where he won the rainbow jersey of world champion in 2012.
Once over the top of the climb today, while riders regrouped behind him and Vanendert came through to clinch the runner's-up spot, Gilbert never looked like being caught.
One rider expected to figure in this week's races, Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez, is undergoing tests in hospital after crashing around 80km into the 251.8km race. Also involved in that crash was Trek Factory Racing's Andy Schleck, who abandoned later on.
"This was a particularly emotional win for me," said Gilbert after adding to his wins in 2010 and 2011.
"My wife and my kids were here for the first time in two years. So to win will be something they will never forget. I have been dreaming of this."
The Belgian’s victory was built on the foundation of support from his team throughout the race.
Besides that late attack from Sanchez that provided the launch pad for Gilbert’s own charge, the team had helped control the deficit to the day’s break throughout.
Meanwhile Greg Van Avermaet followed a move led by Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler 30km out that would only finally be reeled in with 7km remaining.
"My teammates really did a great job before the final ascension of the Cauberg," added Gilbert.
"They all did a very good job to place me in the best position. During the briefing, it was planned for Samuel [Sanchez] to do an attack at the foot of the Cauberg.
“It was not a surprise for me, but I think it was one for my adversaries. I only had to wait for the best moment to attack.
“And I did that when it was most difficult and hurting for everyone," he concluded.