Roman Kreuziger of Saxo-Tinkoff today pulled off the big win he has always promised, winning the Amstel Gold Race after bridging across to a small front group on the first climb of the Cauberg with 20 kilometres left and attacking again inside the final 10 kilometres to ride away to a fine solo victory.
Philippe Gilbert of BMC Racing, who won the rainbow jersey here 12 months ago, tried to respond on the second climb of the Cauberg, but the Czech was too far ahead to be reeled in. The Belgian finished fifth, missing out on the podium of a race he has won twice, with Movistar's Alejandro Valverde taking second in a sprint from a small group, and Orica-GreenEdge's Simon Gerrans third.
For the first time in a one-day race this season, the big favourite, Cannondale's Peter Sagan, finished outside the top two. A crash with more than 90 kilometres left to ride brought down a number of riders including Gilbert and Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler, taken to hospital with what is reported as a broken collarbone.
As Mikel Astarloza, the last survivor of the day's main break, crossed the finish line alone to begin the 18-kilometre closing circuit, the main group had the Euskaltel rider and the five men in pursuit of him within sight on that long closing straight, with Kreuziger was among those able to bridge across on the descent.
With 15 kilometres left, Astarloza had been caught and there was now a front group of seven, but with the main group within half a minute, the catch looked inevitable ahead of the finale.
The front group wasn’t done yet, though, with a number of attacks being launched as they went over the top of the Bemmelberg with 10km to go, and it was Kreuziguer who made the one that stuck.
The 26-year-old Czech turned onto the bottom of the Cauberg for the second and last time with a lead of half a minute over the other members of what had been the lead group, their pursuers now right behind with Gilbert initiating an attack, joined by Gerrans and Valverde.
The trio were now Kreuziger's closest challengers, and Gilbert, whose attack on the Cauberg last September had brought him the world championship, kicked again towards the top of the climb. Kreuziger hadn't buckled, however, and was already on his way to the biggest win of his career.
Gilbert was briefly on his own as second man on the road ahead of the flat 1.8 kilometre run-in to the line, but Valverde and Gerrans, plus what was now a very select group, got back across to him and pipped the BMC Racing man to the podium.
The crash that caused Voeckler's injury took place with 92 kilometres to go, a number of riders about 15 or 20 men back in the main group going down, with many of those behind them riding across an adjacent ploughed field to avoid being held up.
Among those to hit the deck were Gilbert who had a frustratingly long wait for a bike change, and RadioShack-Leopard’s Andy Schleck.
The pair were joined by Movistar’s Juan Jose Rojas as they tried to chase back on, which Gilbert and Rojas managed to do, but Schleck, who in recent days has admitted that he has all but written off the 2013 season, soon abandoned.
Around 10 kilometres into the 251-kilometre race, Garmin-Sharp’s Johan Vansummeren had initiated an attack and was joined by four other riders –Accent Jobs-Wanty’s Tim De Troyer, Alexandre Pliuschin of IAM, Euskaltel’s Mikel Astraloza and the Topsport Vlaanderen rider, Arthur Van Overberghe.
Two other men would subsequently bridge across – another from Accent Jobs-Wanty, Nicolas Vogondy, and Klaas Sys of Crelan-Euphony – and at one point the seven riders’ advantage over the main group was 11 minutes.
By the time the front group hit the Gulpenerberg, with 46 kilometres remaining, it comprised just three riders – Astarloza, Vansummeren and Pliuschin – and their lead was just three minutes or so.
Astarloza took the opportunity of that climb, the 26th of 34 featuring on today’s parcours, to attack his fellow escapees, and soon dropped them.
Behind, as the main group prepared to tackle that ascent, Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez was among a number of riders involved in yet another crash at a point where the road narrowed.
While he was able to rejoin the race after a spare bike was brought up from the team car, his race was effectively over, the Spaniard looking in some discomfort as he repeatedly checked his left thigh and knee.
As Astraloza headed up the Keutenberg, the highest peak in the Netherlands, which has ramps of up to 22 per cent and was crested around 30 kilometres from the end, he had a two minute advantage over what was becoming an increasingly small front group.
A number of riders were launching attacks to try and get off in pursuit of the riders ahead, including Pieter Weening of Orica GreenEdge, who got away and passed the flagging Vansummeren, and past winner Damiano Cunego of Lampre-Merida.
The effect of those moves was that five riders formed a second group on the road behind Astarloza, with Weening and Pliuschin joined by Astana’s Andrei Grivko and the Blanco pair of Peter Tanner and Lars Petter Nordhaug.
Astarloza had a lead of less than a minute over them as they hit the foot of the Cauberg for the first time with 21 kilometres left to go, but he was starting to pay for his earlier efforts and looked spent by the tme the six riders chasing him made the catch, Kreuziger proving to have the freshest legs when he launched his subsequent race-winning attack.
Amstel Gold Race result 1 Roman Kreuziger Saxo-Tinkoff 06:35:21 2 Alejandro Valverde Movistar +22 3 Simon Gerrans Orica-GreenEdge " 4 Michal Kwiatkowski Omega Pharma-Quick Step “ 5 Philippe Gilbert BMC Racing “ 6 Sergio Heano Sky Procycling “ 7 Bjorn Leukemans Vacansoleil-DCM “ 8 Pieter Weening Orica-GreenEdge “ 9 Enrico Gasparotto Astana “ 10 Bauke Mollema Blanco “ 11 Giampaolo Caruso Katusha “ 12 Fabian Wegmann Garmin-Sharp “ 13 Jelle Vanendert Lotto-Belisol “ 14 Nicki Sorensen Saxo-Tinkoff “ 15 Lars Petter Nordhaug Blanco “ 16 Greg Van Avermaet BMC Racing “ 17 Jakob Fuglsang Astana +25 18 Simon Geschke Argos-Shimano +36 19 Alexandr Kolobnev Katusha “ 20 Francesco Gavazzi Astana “
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.