Philippe Gilbert leads chase of escapee Oscar Freire up the Cauberg, but fails to make it three in a row

Astana's Enrico Gasparotto, third to Philippe Gilbert in the 2010 Amstel Gold Race, beat Jelle Vanendert of Lotto-Belisol and Peter Sagan of Liquigas Cannondale in a three-way sprint to the line on top of the Cauberg to take this year's edition of the race and with it, the biggest win of his career.

Gilbert, seeking his third win in a row in the race that opens Ardennes Week, had led the main bunch up that final climb in pursuit of Katusha's Oscar Freire, who had attacked in the final ten kilometres. However, the Belgian champion had nothing left to contest the charge for the line as the three riders who were to make up the podium passed him with just metres left. 

Instead, it was the 30-year-old Gasparotto, now in his fourth season with Astana, who prevailed. Italian national champion in 2005, he is the fifth rider from that country to have won Amsel Gold since 2002, when Michele Bartoli triumphed, the others being Davide Rebellin, Danilo Di Luca and, most recently, Damiano Cunego in 2008.

The members of a nine-man breakaway were starting to be picked off one by one as the race entered its final 25 kilometres, with BMC controlling the front of the peloton for Gilbert.

The Belgian had been all-conquering in the Ardennes 12 months ago, successfully defending his Amstel Gold title and becoming only the second man ever to win that race plus the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in the same season.

However, there had been question marks over Gilbert’s form heading into today’s race, which ended early for another of his BMC Racing team mates who is a past winner of an Ardennes Classic – Cadel Evans, who won Fleche Wallonne in the rainbow jersey in 2010.

Today, the Australian, who earlier this month had won the Criterium International on Corsica, abandoned with 65 kilometres left to race.

Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen attacked on a flat section ahead of the day’s penultimate climb, the Keufenberg, but as the gradient hit 20 per cent, he was caught as BMC continued to force the pace in the group, with riders including Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel struggling and falling out of the back.

Just the Cauberg, which will also feature in the finale of this year’s UCI Road World Championships, remained to be tackled, the last of the day’s 31 climbs. Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler, shadowed by Liquigas-Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, briefly got off the front, but they were soon brought back, and next to go was Katusha’s Freire.

The Spaniard, who for all his successes elsewhere has never been on the podium in Amstel Gold, had a clear gap as he hit the foot of the Cauberg, with only Niki Terpstra of Omega Pharma-Quick Step responding from the group, now whittled down to 20 or so riders, as they headed under the 2 kilometres to go banner.

As Freire headed up the Cauberg, Gilbert led the charge behind, with a crash behind bringing down Lampre-ISD’s Damiano Cunego and Team Sky’s Lars-Petter Nordhaug, each gesticulating as if to blame the other afterwards.

Gilbert caught Freire, but his efforts on the climb meant he could offer no response as the trio of men who would make up the podium swept past him with the line in sight.

On a cold day in the Netherlands, a number of attempts early on in the race to get away from the peloton had failed but eventually a nine-man break formed and managed to stretch out a lead of getting on for a quarter of an hour at some point.

Garmin-Barracida had two men in the group in the shape of Michael Kreder and Alex Howes, and they were joined by AG2R’s Romain Bardet, Pello Bilbao of Euskaltel-Euskadi, Steven Caethoven from Accent Jobs, FDJ-BigMat’s Cedric Pineau, Lampre-ISD’s Simone Stortoni, Sébastien Delfosse of Landbouwkrediet and the Topsport Vlaanderen rider, Eliot Lietar.

Heading into the second half of the 256.5 kilometre race, the breakaway group’s lead was slashed – for want of a better word – as some riders reportedly came to blows due to an argument said to be about when they should stop to relieve themselves.

Amstel Gold 2012 Result

1   Enrico GASPAROTTO    AST 6:32:35
2   Jelle VANENDERT      LTB      +0
3   Peter SAGAN          LIQ      +2
4   Oscar FREIRE         KAT      +2
5   Thomas VOECKLER      EUC      +2
6   Philippe GILBERT     BMC      +2
7   Samuel SANCHEZ       EUS      +2
8   Fabian WEGMANN       GRM      +4
9   Rinaldo NOCENTINI    ALM      +4
10  Bauke MOLLEMA        RAB      +4
11  Maxim IGLINSKY       AST      +4
12  Frank SCHLECK        RNT      +4
13  Elia FAVILLI         FAR      +4
14  Dries DEVENYNS       OPQ      +9
15  Ryder HESJEDAL       GRM      +9
16  Nicki SÖRENSEN       SAX     +12
17  Daniel MORENO        KAT     +12
18  Thomas DEKKER        GRM     +12
19  Rui FARIA DA COSTA   MOV     +12
20  Simon GERRANS        GEC     +19

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.