Kwiatkowski sprints to first victory in rainbow jersey in Amstel Gold Race
The reigning world champion takes his first win in the rainbow jersey in a reduced sprint ahead of Alejandro Valverde and Michael Matthews.
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Although this year’s Amstel Gold Race saw no shortage of attacks on the numerous steep climbs along the 258-kilometer road from Maastricht to Valkenburg, the race came down to a reduced sprint in the end, after the consolidation of small groups of riders atop the final climb of the Cauberg. Reigning world road race champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step) powered to victory in the sprint to take his first win in the rainbow jersey (although he won a prologue time trial in Paris-Nice earlier this year), ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge).
A morning breakaway of six riders — Johann Van Zyl (MTN-Qhubeka), Mike Terpstra (Team Roompot), Jan Polanc (Lampre-Merida), Timo Roosen (LottoNL-Jumbo), Linus Gerdemann (Cult Energy), and Laurens De Vreese (Astana) — got clear early on in the day and opened up a sizable lead. They maintained their gap until being gradually reeled back in and caught with around 30 kilometers to go.
After the catch of the morning move, a few groups of riders jumped off the front of the peloton. Those who managed to get clear and survive the high pace of the breakaway attempt eventually consolidated into a group of four: Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge), David Tanner (IAM Cycling), Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step), and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). After getting separation of nearly a minute, however, the group was unable to cooperate, and the peloton began to close down the gap. Simon Clarke attempted to go solo, but everything came back together inside the final ten kilometers.
After Clarke was caught, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) attempted to create separation and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) latched onto his wheel, but Van Avermaet would not work with Fuglsang, and the move was reeled in, making for a compact peloton heading into the Cauberg.
Several riders launched early at the start of the final ascent, but by the midway point of the climb, 2014-winner Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) had surged into the lead, with Michael Matthews tucked into his wheel and Kwiatkowski a few lengths behind. At the top of the Cauberg, however, a number of separate groups at the head of the race came back together. A reduced bunch sprint followed, in which the world champion Kwiatkowski outmatched Valverde, Matthews, and the rest of the small group to take the win, his first victory in a road race this year and his first ever WorldTour one-day victory.
After the race, Kwiatkowski noted that he was struggling as the finished approached, but teammate Gianni Meersman convinced him that everyone else was too.
“That gave me a lot of motivation before the last time up the Cauberg. I’m really thankful they believed in me until the last moment,” said Kwiatkowski. “In cycling you never know what to expect from those around you. You might look around and feel like no-one is suffering, but you don’t know the true situation until the last important acceleration.”
“For the sprint I was able to sit in the slipstream and breathe a little bit, and that was important to recover from the effort on the Cauberg,” he said. “I was able to get some energy back to go full gas in the select group sprint and win.”
Kwiatkowski, Valverde, and many of the other protagonists of the Amstel Gold Race will now head to Belgium to take on Wednesday’s La Flèche Wallonne and then Sunday’s “Ardennes Classics” finale, Liège–Bastogne–Liège.