The 2014 Amstel Gold Race opened Ardennes Week in style this year.
A 251km parcours littered with 34 climbs provided a stern test for cycling’s elite riders as the UCI WorldTour circus headed for Limburg. After two intriguing breakaways were brought to heel, a pulsating finish was almost guaranteed on one of bike racing’s most formidable ramps. That victory was claimed by a man who had won on three of his previous four visits mattered little.
Victory on the Cauberg for Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) was hardly without precedent, but neither was it a certainty. Fast Phil never gave less than his all in his year as world road race champion, but freed from the burden of the rainbow stripes, he looks back to his very best this year. Can the Wallloon repeat his Ardennes treble of 2011?
Michal Kwiatkowski has been rightly lauded as one of cycling’s most exciting young talents after a sensational start to his 2014 campaign, but despite being placed perfectly for the finish by his Omega Pharma-Quickstep team-mates, the Polish road race champion failed to finish the job. Is it time to remind ourselves that the 23-year-old incarnation of Kwiatkowski is unlikely to be the finished article?
Perhaps he was simply undone by the severity of the Cauberg, and if so, he was in good company. Australian champion, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE), and the 2010 Vuelta a Espana winner, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), also wilted on its 900m slope. Regardless of the outcome, the Cauberg delivered again on the organisers’ implicit promise of an action-packed denouement. What is it about a hill leading from the pretty town of Valkenberg that allows it to routinely deliver such excitement?
When the history of this season’s Spring Classics is written, the name Greg Van Avermaet will deserve special mention. Despite coming tantalisingly close to more than one career-defining victory, the courageous Belgian has yet to taste champagne. He was among those who set the race alight again at Amstel yesterday. Is it time Van Avermaet moved from the shadows of his more accomplished BMC Racing team-mates?
It goes almost without saying that Van Avermaet left his mark on the 2014 Amstel Gold Race by riding as part of a breakaway. Two escapes lit up the 49th edition, preventing the run to the Cauberg from becoming as processional as a Formula One race. To no-one’s surprise, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), was among the instigators of a counter-attack, and the last remaining survivors of an early move almost made it to the finish in the shape of Christophe Riblon and Preben Van Hecke. Should the men of the breakaway share in the glory of the race winner?
Read on for our five observations on the 2014 Amstel Gold Race, and add your own in the RCUK Forum.