Throwback: Amstel Gold Race 1999 revisited

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Throwback: Moto crashes, a Dutch winner and Lance Armstrong’s return at Amstel Gold Race 1999

Michael Boogerd wins 1999 Amstel Gold Race, beating Texan in two-up sprint

The Amstel Gold Race celebrated its 50th year in 2015, as world champion Michal Kwiatkowski triumphed in the rainbow jersey to mark the half-century in fitting style.

And ahead of the 51st edition of the first of the three Ardennes Classics, we have delved into the archives to pick one of the more memorable of those 50 editions.

While Jan Raas has won the race five times – more than any other rider – and Philippe Gilbert has been King of the Cauberg in recent years, the 1999 edition, won by Michael Boogerd, was the significant as the start of another big era in professional cycling.

Not because of the Dutchman who won, but because of a certain Texan who finished runner-up after being beaten in the sprint finish.

Michael Boogerd, the Dutch champion, beat Lance Armstrong at the 1999 Amstel Gold Race (pic: Sirotti)

Setting the scene – Rabobank leading Dutch revival, Armstrong back in the bunch

Though traditionally dominated by Dutch rider – notably Jan Raas with his five victories – the 1990s was a lean patch for success in the Netherlands.

Frans Maassen, a rider local to Limburg, was the last Dutchman to win the Amstel Gold Race, in 1991, while Swiss rider Rolf Jaermann rolled out as defending champion in 1999.

Frank Vandenbroucke started the race as World Cup leader after winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege (pic: Sirotti)

Rabobank had sought to change that, however, investing heavily in Dutch youth and by 1999 they were starting to reap the rewards.

Michael Boogerd had won Paris-Nice the previous month, and was runner-up at both De Brabantse Pijl and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

As the Amstel Gold Race was the last of the three Ardennes Classics in 1999 – the fifth round of the UCI Road World Cup – the form book was well known; Michel Bartoli (Mapei-QuickStep) won La Fleche Wallonne and Cofidis’ Frank Vandenbroucke had triumphed at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Rabobank had shown good form at La Doyenne however, with Boogerd joined on the podium by third-placed Maarten den Bakker, while Niki Aebersold and Markus Zberg were also in the top ten.

DS Theo de Rooy told CyclingNews: “Michael Boogerd is riding very well at the moment, while Maarten den Bakker is in the form of his life.”

Bartoli was also among the form men heading into the race, having also won Tirreno-Adriatico and De Brabantse Pijl and finished fourth at E3, the Tour of Flanders and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Lance Armstrong (US Postal Service) was also on the start line, having overcome testicular cancer the previous year and finished fourth at the Vuelta a Espana on his comeback, while Jan Ullrich was another Tour contender looking to find form.

The route – Maastricht start, 30 hills, flat finale

The finish line had moved to Maastricht in 1991, and the 1998 edition was the first edition to also start in Limburg’s primary city.

Featuring 27 hills in all, the race did not finish on the Cauberg back in 1999 (that was first introduced in 2003), though the climb did feature twice on the route.

The race finish moved to Maastricht in 1991, and the start followed suit from 1998 (pic: Sirotti)

Eyserbosweg and Keutenberg also featured, with the latter the Netherlands’ steepest climb, featuring 70km from the finish and boasting a 23 per cent maximum gradient.

Three Belgian climbs – St. Simon, Cote de Hallembaye and St. Pierre – were also included, with the second done to ensure a smaller selection for the finish.

The race covered some 253km in all, but was still expected to be an open affair, with climbers as likely to win as fast-finishing rouleurs.

How the race unfolded

The race started at a slow tempo, but despite that no breakaway had got away with the peloton still together as they hit the Cauberg for the first time.

There, however, Alexandre Vinokourov – in his second year as a pro rider – was one of three riders to get away, joined by Koos Moerenhout of Rabobank and Ludo Dierckxens.

Cofidis led the peloton for World Cup leader Frank Vandenbroucke and the break took some time to establish a meaningful lead until finally the three leaders stretched out their advantage.

A crash in the peloton caused the peloton to split into two groups after 110km, and the three leaders were still more than four minutes clear as they reached the Schweiberg.

A pattern established of the peloton splitting as a result of a faster pace on the climbs, but coming back together on the descent before Jo Planckaert (Lotto) counter-attacked.

Michael Boogerd found his wheel, and were joined by Lampre’s Gabriele Missaglia as they set off in pursuit of the Vinokourov group.

A young Alexandre Vinokourov rides in the day’s break (pic: Sirotti)

Mapei-QuickStep led the peloton, for Michele Bartoli, however – and their pace-setting saw the bunch fragment on the steep slopes of the Keutenberg.

Bartoli and team-mate Paolo Bettini, Vandenbroucke, Lance Armstrong, Laurent Jalabert and Rabobank trio Maarten den Bakker, Leon van Bon and Markus Zberg were all in the strong group which came together after the climb.

When that 11-strong group joined the Boogerd group it provided more impetus to the chase and the gap was down to two minutes on the final ascent of the Cauberg.

Another 30 seconds had been shaved off that advantage by the time the chasing group crested the climb, and at the first crossing of the finish line the break was nearly over.

Bartoli was struggling, but Rabobank – with Moerenhout now absorbed from the break too – boasted five riders in the front group and set about making their strength in numbers pay.

Den Bakker repeatedly attacked, as did Van Bon, with a Rabobank rider attacking almost as soon as a previous attack had been brought back.

Michael Boogerd looked strong throughout the race (pic: Sirotti)

Finally, the race-defining selection was made on the Muizenberg, with Boogerd instigating the attack and Armstrong catching the Rabobank man and taking over the pace-setting.

Missaglia was next to react, and Zberg followed to make a four-man leading group, with Rabobank boasting two riders up the road.

Their three team-mates worked in the chasing group to disrupt any chases, meanwhile, breaking down every counter-move as Armstrong drove the leaders’ pace.

Boogerd attacked on the Hallembaye, but Armstrong followed and the two earned a small gap over Zberg and Missaglia, which was maintained over St.Pierre.

Lance Armstrong leads the way, with Boogerd happy to sit on his wheel (pic: Sirotti)

It came back together on the Pietersberg, however, but disaster struck Zberg as they took a left-hand bend, well-populated by fans, only to find a race motorbike obstructing the path.

Boogerd just avoided the bike, but Zberg and Missaglia weren’t so lucky as they both hit the deck – leaving Armstrong and Boogerd up the road again.

Armstrong continued to set the pace, with Boogerd happy to wait for Zberg in accordance with team instructions – Jan Raas urging him not to overtake Armstrong.

With Zberg unable to regain contact, however, it was left to the Texan to open up the sprint – only for Boogerd to pass him on the line and end the Dutch wait for a home winner.

Amstel Gold Race 1999: result

1) Michael Boogerd (NED) – Rabobank – 6.37.23
2) Lance Armstrong (USA) – US Postal Service – ST
3) Gabriele Missaglia (ITA) – Lampre-Daikin-Colnago +16”
4) Maarten den Bakker (NED) – Rabobank – ST
5) Laurent Roux (FRA) – Casino
6) Leon van Bon (NED) – Rabobank +46”
7) Markus Zberg (SUI) – Rabobank – ST
8) Gian-Matteo Fagnini (ITA) – Saeco-Cannondale +51”
9) Daniele Nardello (ITA) – Mapei-QuickStep – ST
10) Marco Velo (ITA) – Mercatone Uno-Bianchi +54”

The aftermath – Lance Armstrong and all that

“It isn’t my favourite style to ride in the wheel of Lance for 20 kilometres,” Boogerd confessed immediately after the race, indicating he was following Raas’ team orders.

“Not riding in front is nothing for me. But winning is the only thing that counts. It’s great to win your own country. It’s great to see our tactics worked today.”

Boogerd sprints to victory – Armstrong was to be denied by another Dutchman, Erik Dekker, in similar fashion two years later (pic: Sirotti)

Boogerd’s victory remained his only success at the Amstel Gold Race, however, despite a string of podium places in the years which followed.

Between 2002 and 2006, Boogerd was on the podium every year but never again won the race – in fact only one Dutchman, Erik Dekker (2001) has since, coincidentally also beating Armstrong in a two-up sprint finish.

After retiring Boogerd went on to become a directeur sportif but faced allegations of doping and, in 2013, confessed to Dutch television that he had doped during a ten-year period between 1997 and 2007.

He was banned from the sport by the UCI at the turn of this year, and can’t return until after December 21, 2017.

As for the man he beat, well the rest, as they say, is history.

Armstrong went on to win his first Tour de France in the summer, courtesy of four stage wins along the way, and won seven consecutive editions between 1999 and 2005.

Those victories, of course, have since been stripped from the record books after his confession to doping throughout his career, made in 2013.

Immediately post-race, however, in discussions still prevalent in 2016, it was the interference of the race motorbike which garnered much attention.

Lance Armstrong set the pace for much of the day, using the race as part of his build-up to the 1999 Tour de France (pic: Sirotti)

“It’s terrible for Zberg,” Boogerd told CyclingNews. “It’s a scandal with all the motorbikes. I understand they have to do their work but today it was no longer what you would call normal.

“I had motorbikes in front of me, beside me, behind me. I even hit one motorbike during the race.

“There were too many of them. I don’t think the last word is spoken about this.”

Given race motos were propelled back into the news, after Antoine Demoitie’s death at Gent-Wevelgem this year, and a number of instances of crashes in other high-profile races, Boogerd was not wrong there…

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