Events

Cunego wins Amstel Gold Race

The Cauberg climb was the scene of a stunning finale Sunday of a wild, action-packed Amstel Gold Race that saw Damiano Cunego (Lampre) score a huge victory against the attacking Frank Schleck (CSC). Realizing his only shot against faster rivals such as Cunego and third-place finisher Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) was to attack, the Luxembourger surged away with a vengeance with 500 meters to go to drop everyone out an elite group of nine riders except Cunego. Schleck’s raid almost worked, but Italy’s “Little Prince” had another ending in mind.

By Andrew Hood

The Little Prince wins in Valkenburg

The Little Prince wins in Valkenburg

Photo: Graham Watson

The Cauberg climb was the scene of a stunning finale Sunday of a wild, action-packed Amstel Gold Race that saw Damiano Cunego (Lampre) score a huge victory against the attacking Frank Schleck (CSC).

Realizing his only shot against faster rivals such as Cunego and third-place finisher Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) was to attack, the Luxembourger surged away with a vengeance with 500 meters to go to drop everyone out an elite group of nine riders except Cunego.

Schleck’s raid almost worked, but Italy’s “Little Prince” had another ending in mind.

The 26-year-old Cunego had just enough left in the gas tank to latch onto the wheel and then squeak past a frustrated Schleck to win his third race in nine days.

Victorious at the Klasika Primavera and a stage at the Basque tour last week in his run-up to the Ardennes, Cunego added Amstel to his collection of two Giro di Lombardia classic trophies in savvy fashion.

“To be honest, I’m surprised I won today. I came here to make a test ahead of Flèche and Liège, but the legs responded in the key moments,” said Cunego. “There were so many attacks in the end. I had to bridge across to the final group and I was worried that maybe I used too much energy. The finale was very hard. I had to give everything to be able to come around Schleck.”

Schleck leads the break.

Schleck leads the break.

Photo: Graham Watson

Cunego’s Amstel Gold debut was indeed golden on a day that saw Schleck display that he was perhaps the strongest man in the race only to come up short in his bid to win Holland’s biggest race for the second time in three years.

Egged on by Team CSC team manager Bjarne Riis, Schleck bolted with 500 meters to the line to gap a group that also included former winner Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), top Dutch hope Thomas Dekker (Rabobank), Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d’Epargne), Karsten Kroon (CSC), Christian Pfannberger (Barloworld) and Serguei Ivanov (Astana).

“I had Bjarne (Riis) yelling in my ear piece to attack. It just went as hard as I could to try to drop everyone. It almost turned out to be a win,” said Schleck, a winner in 2006. “Damiano knew all he had to do was stay on my wheel. He did everything right. I didn’t make any mistakes. It’s just that Damiano was a little stronger in the end.”

Both Rebellin and Valverde complained of cramps on the final run up the Cauberg, but admitted that probably wouldn’t have mattered.

Rebellin ran out of gas at the end.

Rebellin ran out of gas at the end.

Photo: Graham Watson

“My legs cramped just as Schleck attacked and I immediately lost 15 to 20 meters. It was a bad moment for that, but Schleck was very strong today. He really attacked hard on the previous climbs, too,” said Rebellin, who tried a solo flier with 5km to go. “I thought I would try to get away because it’s more complicated with such a big group. I can be satisfied because this is a good sign ahead of the other races this week.”

High Road’s Kim Kirchen was active in the late-going to lead the team with 20th at 1:00 back while Slipstream-Chipotle put four riders into a group at 5:25 back.

Gerolsteiner and eternal home crowd favorite Rabobank did their bits to control the day’s action leading into the thrilling final 35km run over the final decisive seven climbs.

An early two-man breakway was neutralized just ahead of the Loorberg with 35km to go. The attacks came in quick succession when Pfannberger and Ivanov escaped over the Fromberg with 16.8km to go before Schleck blew up the bunch on the penultimate climb on the Keutenberg with 12.3km to go.

“The way Schleck attacked today was ferocious. We had to do everything just to stay on,” said Valverde, who failed in his bid to become the first Spaniard to win all three of the Ardennes classics. “I’m just dead after this race. I thought if it came down to a sprint atop the Cauberg, I might have a chance. I have to be happy because the spring classics aren’t really a goal for me this year. Schleck was the strongest out there today.”

Schleck might get kudos on brawn, but Cunego will have his name etched into the history books as the fifth Italian to win the race.

Cunego also takes a revenge of sorts against Schleck, who beat him atop l’Alpe d’Huez in the 2006 Tour de France.

The peloton on the Cauberg

The peloton on the Cauberg

Photo: Graham Watson

“Every race is different and each has their own characteristics, so you cannot compare one to another,” Cunego said alluding to Tour showdown. “What’s most important today is that I revealed I’m on great form. We’ll see about Flèche and Liège. I’d like to win those, too.”

Big sun, early break
The 43rd Amstel Gold Race started under glorious sunny skies, at least by Limburg standards.

After an unsettled week that’s seen plenty of rain, clouds and cold, a warm spring sun broke out Sunday morning as 183 from 23 teams signed-in in front of a packed crowd in Maastricht’s Grosse Markt. Riccard Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott) was a late scratch due to fever

The day's early break.

The day’s early break.

Photo: Graham Watson

“I’m glad it’s not raining and I hope it stays this way. This race is dangerous even when the roads are dry,” said Rabobank’s Juan Antonio Flecha. “We have a few cards to play today. This is the biggest race of the year for the sponsor.”

The bumpy course featured no less than 31 rated climbs that dot the hilly Limburg countryside and it took awhile before the day’s main breakaway formed.

Albert Timmer, of Holland-based Skil-Shimano, finally peeled away near the 40km mark along with Kristof Vandewalle (Topsport-Vlaanderen) and Yuriy Krivstov (Ag2r-La Mondiale). The trio powered away from a sluggish peloton to build a 12-minute lead and earn a lot of TV time.

Rabobank and Gerolsteiner helped control the pace and keep the leading three-some at a safe 8-minute lead with still 100km to go.

The race finally kicked into a faster gear following the second of three passages over the decisive Cauberg climb with 75km to go. Team CSC put Marcus Ljungqvist and then world’s silver medalist Alexandr Kolobnev on the front to trim the gap to under two minutes with 55km to go.

Vladimir Gusev (Astana) surged off the front as the attacks started to come fast and thick. Nothing stuck as Rabobank and Gerolsteiner methodically chased the wheel of every would-be adventurer.

A beautiful spring day in Holland

A beautiful spring day in Holland

Photo: Graham Watson

Gerolsteiner surged up the Wolfsberg climb with 42km moments after Joaquin Rodríguez, an important helper to Alejandro Valverde, went down as the peloton squeezed onto the narrow roads.

Niki Terpstra (Milram) went on a solo flier on the Wolfsberg as the leaders were on their last gasps of their escapade. Terpstra bridged out to catch the threesome but the day’s main breakaway was squelched on the Loorberg with 36km to go.

Crunch time
The final 35km saw an unrelenting series of attacks, counter-attacks and fierce chasing.

Climbing sensation Gesink sprung clear behind a Liquigas rider in a move on the Loorberg that drew out Mario Aerts (Silence-Lotto), Astarloa (Milram), Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux) and Kim Kirchen (High Road). Gerolsteiner quickly stuffed the potentially dangerous move.

“It was super-hard today. There was never 10 minutes of the race when it let up that you could chat or relax. That’s the way this race is,” said Slipstream-Chipotle’s Ryder Hesjedal, 82nd at 5:25 back “We had four guys up front until it totally blew up. I felt better than I ever have in this race and I’m just coming here to prepare really for the Giro, so that’s a good sign.”

Team CSC’s Andy Schleck then led the pack to the base of the Gulperberg climb when 2006 Clásica San Sebastián winner Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Télécom) went down hard with a rider from Ag2r-La Mondiale coming through the village of Mechelen.

Lampre surged to the front on the very narrow road up the Gulperberg with 28km to go, with Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) setting tempo. The climb narrowed the front pack to about 40 riders. Carlo Scognamiglio (Barlworld) powered away on the flat, but the blistering pace set by the front pack doomed his hopes.

Dario Caltado (Liquigas) took advantage of a lull in the pack ahead of a trio of climbs starting at Kruisberg to spring clear, but again, the searing speeds saw him engulfed as High Road’s Kirchen led the way as the front group thinned, with the likes of Flecha losing the wind.

Kirchen continued on his rampage up the Esergbosweg with Johan Van Summeren (Silence-Lotto) hitching a ride with 18.6km to go. Rabobank and Gerolsteiner warily watched each other as Van Summeren dropped Kirchen and powered alone across the flats over the summit.

Chasing furiously were about 20 riders, with Schumacher, Rebellin, Cunego, Kroon and Dekker well-positioned at the front. With Van Summeren caught, Serguei Ivanov (Astana) bolted out of the chasers to surge toward the base of the Fromberg climb with 16.8km to go.

Austrian champ Christian Pfannberger (Barloworld) bridged out to form a leading pair with a 16-second gap, forcing Rabobank to put three riders on the front as riders clawed their way back on.

The Amstel Podium for 2008

The Amstel Podium for 2008

Photo: Graham Watson

The penultimate climb on the Keutenberg with 12.3km to go proved decisive as Schleck attacked hard up the steep ramps to split the peloton. Dekker and Schumacher both got spit out the back, but Dekker managed to chase back.

Pulling clear were Rebellin, Cunego, Valverde, Rodríguez, Schleck, Kroon and Dekker who linked up with Pfannberger and Ivanov. Rebellin attacked out of the group with about 11km to go, but was checked when Kroon accelerated with 5.7km through the winding streets of Ijzeren.

This was going to come down to the Cauberg.

Results
1. Damiano Cunego (I), Lampre, 6:35:29
2. Frank Schleck (Lux), Team CSC, s.t.
3. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
4. Davide Rebellin (I), Gerolsteiner, at 0:02
5. Thomas Dekker (N), Rabobank, at 0:06
6. Christian Pfannberger (A), Barloworld, at 0:14
7. Serguei Ivanov (Rus), Astana, 0:18
8. Joaquim Rodriguez (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 0:23
9. Karsten Kroon (Nl), CSC, at 0:27
10. Jerome Pineau (F), Bouygues Telecom at 0:45
11. Fabian Wegmann (Swi), Gerolsteiner, at 0:45
12. Simon Gerrans (Aus), Credit Agricole, at 0:45
13. Rinaldo Nocentini (I), Ag2r, at 0:45
14. Benoit Vaugrenard (F), Francaise des Jeux, at 0:51
15. Stefan Schumacher (G), Gerolsteiner, at 0:51
16. Kjell Carlstrom (Fin), Liquigas, at0:51
17. Johan Vansummeren (B), Silence-Lotto, at 0:56
18. Martin Elmiger (Swi), Ag2r, at 0:56
19. Oscar Freire (Sp), Rabobank, at 0:56
20. Kim Kirchen (Lux), High Road, at 1:00

Photo Gallery

Results

Overall Results
1. Damiano Cunego (I), Lampre, 6:35:29
2. Frank Schleck (Lux), CSC, s.t.
3. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, s.t.
4. Davide Rebellin (I), Gerolsteiner, at 0:02
5. Thomas Dekker (N), Rabobank, at 0:06
6. Christian Pfannberger (A), Barloworld, at 0:14
7. Serguei Ivanov (Rus), Astana, 0:18
8. Joaquim Rodriguez (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 0:23
9. Karsten Kroon (Nl), CSC, at 0:27
10. Jerome Pineau (F), Bouygues Telecom at 0:45
11. Fabian Wegmann (Swi), Gerolsteiner, at 0:45
12. Simon Gerrans (Aus), Credit Agricole, at 0:45
13. Rinaldo Nocentini (I), Ag2r, at 0:45
14. Benoit Vaugrenard (F), Francaise des Jeux, at 0:51
15. Stefan Schumacher (G), Gerolsteiner, at 0:51
16. Kjell Carlstrom (Fin), Liquigas, at 0:51
17. Johan Vansummeren (B), Silence-Lotto, at 0:56
18. Martin Elmiger (Swi), Ag2r, at 0:56
19. Oscar Freire (Sp), Rabobank, at 0:56
20. Kim Kirchen (Lux), High Road, at 1:00
21. Robert Gesink (Nl), Rabobank, at 1:19
22. Sandy Casar (F), Francaise des Jeux, at 1:27
23. Erik Zabel (G), Milram, at 1:27
24. Jesús Del Nero (Sp), Saunier Duval, at 1:27
25. Matthew Lloyd (Aus), Silence-Lotto, at 1:27
26. Alexandre Botcharov (Rus), Credit Agricole, at 1:36
27. Bram Tankink (Nl), Rabobank, at 1:47
28. Staf Scheirlinckx (B), Cofidis, at 1:55
29. Philippe Gilbert (B), Francaise des Jeux, at 1:55
30. Thomas Voeckler (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 1:55
31. Aitor Galdos Alonso (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:55
32. Nicki Sørensen (Dk), CSC, at 1:55
33. Leonardo Bertagnolli (I), Liquigas, at 1:55
34. Mario Aerts (B), Silence-Lotto, at 1:55
35. Christophe Brandt (B), Silence-Lotto, at 1:55
36. Steve Morabito (Swi), Astana, at 1:55
37. Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus), CSC, at 1:55
38. Jelle Vanendert (B), Francaise des Jeux, at 1:55
39. Gerald Ciolek (G), High Road, at 1:55
40. Serguei Yakovlev (Kz), Astana, at 1:55
41. Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 2:06
42. Dmitriy Muravyev (Kz), Astana, at 2:06
43. Hugo Sabido (Por), Barloworld, at 2:06
44. Eros Capecchi (I), Saunier Duval, at 2:11
45. Gustav Erik Larsson (S), CSC, at 2:14
46. Christian Knees (G), Milram, at 2:18
47. Bert De Waele (B), Landbouwkrediet, at 2:20
48. Igor Astarloa Ascasibar (Sp), Milram, at 2:36
49. Ruben Lobato Elvira (Sp), Saunier Duval, at 2:36
50. Andrea Tonti (I), Quick Step, at 2:36
51. Laurens Ten Dam (Nl), Rabobank, at 2:36
52. Mauro Facci (I), Quick Step, at 2:43
53. Roman Kreuziger (Cze), Liquigas, at 2:43
54. Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 2:43
55. Alessandro Ballan (I), Lampre, at 2:57
56. Andrea Moletta (I), Gerolsteiner, at 2:57
57. Nicolas Roche (Irl), Credit Agricole, at 3:13
58. Sylvain Chavanel (F), Cofidis, at 3:23
59. Matej Mugerli (Slo), Liquigas, at 3:42
60. Alberto Fernandez De La Puebla Ramos (Sp), Saunier Duval, at 3:42
61. Markus Zberg (Swi), Gerolsteiner, at 3:57
62. David De La Fuente Rasilla (Sp), Saunier Duval, at 5:06
63. Maxime Monfort (B), Cofidis, at 5:06
64. Giovanni Visconti (I), Quick Step, at 5:06
65. Maxim Iglinsky (Kz), Astana, at 5:06
66. Dario Cataldo (I), Liquigas, at 5:08
67. Rene Mandri (Est), Ag2r, at 5:21
68. Serge Pauwels (B), Topsport Vlaanderen, at 5:21
69. Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 5:25
70. Michael Albasini (Swi), Liquigas, at 5:25
71. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (N), CSC, at 5:25
72. Sven Renders (B), Topsport Vlaanderen, at 5:25
73. Andy Schleck (Lux), CSC, at 5:25
74. David Millar (GB), Slipstream-Chipotle, at 5:25
75. Martijn Maaskant (Nl), Slipstream-Chipotle, at 5:25
76. Adam Hansen (Aus), High Road, at 5:25
77. Edvald Boasson Hagen (N), High Road, at 5:25
78. Leonardo Duque (Col), Cofidis, at 5:25
79. Marcus Ljungqvist (S), CSC, at 5:25
80. Josep Jufre Pou (Sp), Saunier Duval, at 5:25
81. Vincent Jerôme (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 5:25
82. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Slipstream-Chipotle, at 5:25
83. Frederik Willems (B), Liquigas, at 5:25
84. Moises Duenas Nevado (Sp), Barloworld, at 5:25
85. Greg Van Avermaet (B), Silence-Lotto, at 5:25
86. Anthony Roux (F), Francaise des Jeux, at 5:25
87. Jonathan Patrick McCarty (USA), Slipstream Chipotle, at 5:25
88. Hubert Schwab (Swi), Quick Step, at 5:25
89. Pietro Caucchioli (I), Credit Agricole, at 5:25
90. Ignas Konovalovas (Ltu), Credit Agricole, at 5:25
91. Vladimir Gusev (Rus), Astana, at 5:25
92. Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 5:25
93. Alberto Losada Alguacil (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 5:37
94. Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Sp), Rabobank, at 5:45
95. Thomas Frei (Swi), Astana, at 6:04
96. David Lopez Garcia (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 7:33
97. Anthony Geslin (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 7:42
98. Jorge Azanza Soto (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 7:42
99. Iñaki Isasi Flores (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 7:42
100. Juan Jose Oroz Ugalde (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 7:42
101. Marco Pinotti (I), High Road, at 7:42
102. Francesco Gavazzi (I), Lampre, at 7:42
103. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 7:42
104. Aurelien Passeron (F), Saunier Duval, at 7:42
105. Frederik Veuchelen (B), Topsport Vlaanderen, at 7:42
106. Xavier Florencio Cabre (Sp), Bouygues Telecom, at 8:07
107. Ruben Perez Moreno (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 8:07
108. Roy Curvers (Nl), Skil-Shimano, at 9:32
109. Jose Luis Arrieta Lujambio (Sp), Ag2r, at 9:32
110. Yukihiro Doi (Jpn), Skil-Shimano, at 9:32
111. Volodymyr Bileka (Ukr), Silence-Lotto, at 9:32
112. Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukr), Ag2r, at 9:32
113. Maarten Den Bakker (Nl), Skil-Shimano, at 9:32
114. Niki Terpstra (Nl), Milram, at 9:32
115. Joost Posthuma (Nl), Rabobank, at 9:32
116. Jurgen Van De Walle (B), Quick Step, at 9:32
117. Leonardo Scarselli (I), Quick Step, at 9:32
118. Amael Moinard (F), Cofidis, at 9:32
119. Martin Velits (Svk), Milram, at 9:32
120. Addy Engels (Nl), Quick Step, at 9:32
121. Ronny Scholz (G), Gerolsteiner, at 9:32
122. Jonathan Hivert (F), Credit Agricole, at 9:32
123. Kristof Vandewalle (B), Topsport Vlaanderen, at 9:32
124. Giampaolo Cheula (I), Barloworld, at 9:32
125. Valerio Agnoli (I), Liquigas, at 9:32
126. Albert Timmer (Nl), Skil-Shimano, at 9:32
127. Floris Goesinnen (Nl), Skil-Shimano, at 9:32
128. Simon Spilak (Slo), Lampre, at 9:32
129. Daniele Righi (I), Lampre, at 9:32
130. Carlo Scognamiglio (I), Barloworld, at 9:32
131. Francis Mourey (F), Francaise des Jeux, at 9:32
132. Steve Zampieri (Swi), Cofidis, at 9:52
133. Bert Scheirlinckx (B), Landbouwkrediet, at 14:22
134. Renaud Dion (F), Ag2r, at 14:22
135. Matthieu Sprick (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 16:55
136. Paolo Tiralongo (I), Lampre, at 16:55
137. Marco Corti (I), Barloworld, at 19:12
138. Tom Veelers (Nl), Skil-Shimano, at 19:12
139. Christopher Froome (Kny), Barloworld, at 19:12
140. Johan Coenen (B), Topsport Vlaanderen, at 19:12
141. Andry Grivko (Ukr), Milram, at 19:12
142. Björn Schröder (G), Milram, at 19:12
143. Sebastien Delfosse (B), Landbouwkrediet, at 19:12
144. Benjamin Gourgue (B), Landbouwkrediet, at 19:12
145. Laurent Lefèvre (F), Bouygues Telecom, at 19:12
146. Sebastien Minard (F), Cofidis, at 19:12