Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) soloed to Amstel Gold Race victory to record the biggest one-day win of his career.
The Czech rider attacked from an escape group on the penultimate climb of the day and stayed clear to cross the line 22 seconds ahead of the remains of the peloton.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) led the chase up the Cauberg but the world champion was forced to settle for fifth behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), while hot pre-race favourite Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling) finished a lowly 36th.
“It’s a big surprise,” said Kreuziger, who joined Bjarne Riis’ team from Astana at the start of the season. “But the whole team did an excellent job and I was fully prepared for the finale and I was feeling strong all the way.
“On the final climb of Cauberg, I just looked down and pedalled without thinking so much.”
Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp) attacked early in the 251km race, which included 34 climbs, and the 2011 Paris-Roubaix winner was soon joined by Tim De Troyer (Accent Jobs-Wanty), Alexandre Pliuschin (IAM Cycling), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Arthur Van Overberghe (Topsport Vlaanderen), with the group quickly opening up a lead of more than six minutes.
Nicolas Vogondy (Accent Jobs) and Klaas Sys (Crelan-Euphony) bridged across to the leaders and the seven-man group enjoyed a lead of as much as 11 minutes at the halfway point in the race.
But the group began to split up as the unrelenting parcours took its toll and that prompted Astarloza to surge clear with 46km remaining.
The 33-year-old Basque rider was caught on the penultimate of four ascents of the Cauberg by Pliuschin and three riders – Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE), Lars Petter Nordhaug and David Tanner (Blanco Pro Cycling) with Andriy Grivko (Astana) – who had attacked from the peloton.
The lead group then swelled to eight after Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM), Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) and Kreuziger also broke free from the peloton going into the final 18.5km circuit.
That prompted Kreuziger to attack on the Bemelerberg with seven kilometres remaining and the 26-year-old soon opened up a significant lead over his former breakaway companions, by now unable to form a cohesive group to chase down the former junior world champion.
Kreuziger swung onto the final ascent of the Cauberg with an advantage of more than 20 seconds over the chasing group, which in turn was being rapidly reeled in by the peloton, and the former Astana and Liquigas rider made no mistake in making his lead stick despite the best efforts of Gilbert, who launched a stinging attack on the Cauberg in a bid to catch Kreuziger.
But even if Kreuziger was out of sight, the race was still on for the remaining podium places and Gerrans and Valverde combined to bridge across to Gilbert.
The Amstel Gold Race course was tweaked going into the 2013 edition, with the finish line moved 1.8km down the road from the summit of the Cauberg to match the 2012 World Championship route on which Gilbert claimed victory.
But the extra distance worked against the Belgian on this occassion and, with Gilbert, Gerrans and Valverde eye-balling each other, the remains of the peloton caught the trio to setup an elite sprint for second and third place, won by Valverde ahead of Gerrans.
The Ardennes Classics continue with La Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday (April 17).
Amstel Gold Race 2013 – result
1) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Saxo-Tinkoff – 6:35:21 hours
2) Alejandro Valverdo (SPA) – Movistar +22″
3) Simon Gerrans (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – same time
4) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
5) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – BMC Racing
6) Sergio Henao (COL) – Team Sky
7) Bjorn Leukemans (BEL) – Vacansoleil-DCM
8) Pieter Weening (NED) Orica-GreenEDGE
9) Enrico Gasparotto (ITA) – Astana
10) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Blanco Pro Cycling