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Schleck scores big in aggressive Amstel

Many experts predicted that Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race would end in a bunchsprint up the climb to the finish on the infamous Cauberg hill in Valkenberg.The experts were wrong, and after a blizzard of attacks in the final 60km,CSC’s Frank Schleck emerged from a 10-man break with 10km to go and scoredhis first-ever classics victory. “It never hurts to attack,” said Schleck, who is the first rider fromLuxembourg to win a classic in more than 50 years. “I saw that [Sergei]Ivanov attacked, I saw that [Paolo] Bettini attacked, so I decided to takemy chance.”

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By John Wilcockson

Schleck picked the right time to attack

Schleck picked the right time to attack

Photo: Graham Watson

Many experts predicted that Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race would end in a bunchsprint up the climb to the finish on the infamous Cauberg hill in Valkenberg.The experts were wrong, and after a blizzard of attacks in the final 60km,CSC’s Frank Schleck emerged from a 10-man break with 10km to go and scoredhis first-ever classics victory.

“It never hurts to attack,” said Schleck, who is the first rider fromLuxembourg to win a classic in more than 50 years. “I saw that [Sergei]Ivanov attacked, I saw that [Paolo] Bettini attacked, so I decided to takemy chance.”

Indeed, it was Quick Step’s Bettini, who made the decisive attack fromthe main group at the top of Eyserbosweg, 29th of the day’s 31 climbs,with 17km to go. The Italian raced brilliantly in pursuit of T-Mobile’sSteffen Wesemann, who had been away on his own for the previous 18km witha lead that never exceeded 17 seconds on a pack that had grown to 60 ridersstrong.

It was Bettini's chase of Wesseman that set Schleck for the win

It was Bettini’s chase of Wesseman that set Schleck for the win

Photo: Graham Watson

Bettini chased and chased before eventually catching Wesemann — a Germanwho took Swiss nationality last year — with 13km remaining. Just aheadwas the second-to-last and often decisive climb, the Keutenberg, whichhas a leg-bending 22-percent pitch. Bettini led all the way up. But heand Wesemann were joined just after the sharp summit by the pursuing Ivanovand Schleck.

This was turning into an epic contest, and it continued with a desperate,but successful chase from Rabobank’s eternal Dutch favorite Michael Boogerd,who was followed to the front by former race winner Davide Rebellin ofGerolsteiner along with Karsten Kroon of CSC, Patrik Sinkewitz of T-Mobile,Miguel Martin Perdiguero of Phonak and Stefan Schumacher of Gerolsteiner.

When the dust settled — or rather the mud, because morning rain hadleft standing water on most of the narrow country roads — there were (momentarily) 10 leaders: three from T-Mobile (Wesemann, Ivanov and Sinkewitz), two from CSC (Schleck and Kroon), two from Gerolsteiner (Rebellin and Schumacher) and one each from Quick Step (Bettini), Rabobank (Boogerd) and Phonak (Perdiguero).

All the top favorites were in the break except for the Spaniards IgorAstarloa of Barloworld (who had been in the original attack with Wesemann),Oscar Freire of Rabobank and Alejandro Valverde of Caisse d’Épargne(neither of whom had the wherewithal to shine in this wild, every-man-for-himself environment.
FullResults

For a moment (and only for a moment) it looked as though the 10 leaderswould race to the finish together and decide the victory with a sprintup the Cauberg. But this just wasn’t that type of race.

On the Cauberg

On the Cauberg

Photo: Graham Watson

With Ivanov leading the group into a stiff breeze with an effort thatmight later favor his two teammates, Schleck said he detected that no onereally wanted to take the initiative. So, up a slight rise on a narrowroad winding between green pastures, the 26-year-old Luxembourg championbolted clear.

It was the sort of attack Schleck made, without success, at last year’sChampionship of Zürich (where he placed second to the solo Bettini)and Tour of Lombardy (third to Bettini in a three-way sprint) and at lastmonth’s Milan-San Remo (where he was passed at the top of the Poggio byeventual winner Filippo Pozzato).

This time Schleck got it right. “I didn’t even know there was a headwind; I just went,” he said. Schleck was right in his belief that no onewanted to take the initiative. His immediate 100-meter lead stretched to17 seconds as Bettini tried to generate yet another pursuit. The gap droppedto 15 seconds with 5km to go, and then to 10 seconds after Wesemann gothis second wind and broke clear of the other eight riders on the twisting2km descent into Valkenberg.

Schleck kept hammering away on the narrow city streets, not daring tolook around. He said he thought someone would catch him, but with everyonecooked from their incessant attacks and chases over the previous 90 minutesof this spectacular race, it was enough for the Luxembourger to shift ontothe little ring and keep his legs turning as best he could.

The Cauberg is only 750 meters long, but averages almost 8 percent,with a 12-percent kicker in the middle. After more than six-and-a-halfhours in the saddle on a wickedly cold, damp windy day, the Cauberg canseem like L’Alpe d’Huez. Schleck wasn’t sure he could hang on. But, hesaid, “I looked around with 200 meters to go and saw no one; it waslike I was in a dream, and the dream came true.”

Other than the lightly contested Luxembourg national championship (thereare only three other pros in his tiny country), Schleck hadn’t won a racein five years. It was well worth the wait!

Wesseman managed to hold on for second.

Wesseman managed to hold on for second.

Photo: Graham Watson

Behind him, Wesemann, 35, deservedly held on for second place, whichwas as hard-earned as his Tour of Flanders victory two years ago, whileBoogerd finished on the podium for the fourth year in succession afterout-climbing former teammate Kroon for third. The rest of the 107 bedraggledfinishers struggled home over the next 18 minutes, including Belgium’sErwin Thijs (Unibet.com), the only survivor of the day’s main break thatgained 11 minutes at one point, and lasted 200km.

Much higher up in the finishing order was American Chris Horner of Davitamon-Lotto,who took an excellent 20th place; but he blew his chance of something betterwhen, on his own admission, he went with an 11-man break that emerged with45km to go. “Bettini was up there too, but he has the juice to go againlater. And we might have succeeded, but there were no Rabobanks in themove … and a I guess they were chasing.”

Horner was right in his assumption, but that chase almost ruined Rabobank.Just after they caught the Horner-Bettini break, Wesemann counterattackedwith Astarloa and Leonardo Bertagnolli of Cofidis. The Rabo’s chased hardagain, but all their stuffing was gone, and only Boogerd had the reservesto make the winning move — and even he couldn’t stop Schleck!

Bunch finish? Try again.

41ST AMSTEL GOLD RACE
THE NETHERLANDS, APRIL 16
1, Frank Schleck (Lux), CSC, 253.1km in 6:25:39 (39.378 kph)
2. Steffen Wesemann (Swi), T-Mobile, at 0:22
3. Michael Boogerd (Nl), Rabobank, at 0:46
4. Karsten Kroon (Nl), CSC, at 0:48
5. Patrik Sinkewitz (G), T-Mobile
6. Davide Rebellin (I), Gerolsteiner
7. Miguel Martin Perdiguero (Sp), Phonak, all s.t.
8. Paolo Bettini (I), Quick Step, at 0:53
9. Stefan Schumacher (G), Gerolsteiner, at 0:57
10. Sergei Ivanov (Rus), T-Mobile, at 1:07
FullResults2006 UCI PROTOUR (after eight races)
1. Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step-Innergetic 129 pts
2. Alessandro Ballan (I), Lampre-Fondital 105
3. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), CSC 84
4. Alessandro Petacchi (I), Milram 72
5. Antonio Colom (Sp), Caisse d’Épargne-Illes Balears 71
6. Filippo Pozzato (I), Quick Step-Innergetic 70
7. Frank Schleck (Lux), CSC 65
8. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery Channel 60
9. Samuel Sanchez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi 59
10. José Gomez Marchante (Sp), Saunier Duval-Prodir 53TEAMS
1. CSC (Dk) 113 pts
2. Gerolsteiner (G) 112
3. Quick Step-Innergetic (B) 105
4. Discovery Channel (USA) 102
5. Rabobank (Nl) 102

Photo Gallery

Results

1. Frank Schleck (Lux), CSC 6:25:39 (39.36 kph)

2. Steffen Wesemann (Swi), T-Mobile , at 0:22

3. Michael Boogerd (Nl), Rabobank, at 0:46

4. Karsten Kroon (Nl), CSC, at 0:48

5. Patrik Sinkewitz (G), T-Mobile , at 0:48

6. Davide Rebellin (I), Gerolsteiner, at 0:48

7. Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Sp), Phonak 0:48

8. Paolo Bettini (I), Quickstep, at 0:53

9. Stefan Schumacher (G), Gerolsteiner, at 0:57

10. Serguei Ivanov (Rus), T-Mobile , at 1:07

11. Alessandro Ballan (I), Lampre, at 1:12

12. Alexandre Moos (Swi), Phonak, at 1:12

13. Fabian Wegmann (G), Gerolsteiner, at 1:12

14. David Etxebarria Alkorta (Sp), Liberty Seguros, at 1:12

15. Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:20

16. Andrea Moletta (I), Gerolsteiner, at 1:22

17. Oscar Freire Gomez (Sp), Rabobank, at 1:25

18. Cristian Moreni (I), Cofidis, at 1:25

19. Thomas Dekker (Nl), Rabobank, at 1:25

20. Chris Horner (USA), Davitamon-Lotto, at 1:30

21. Matthias Kessler (G), T-Mobile , at 1:33

22. Constantino Zaballa Gutierrez (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 1:34

23. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 1:34

24. Andry Grivko (Ukr), Milram, at 1:36

25. Leonardo Bertagnolli (I), Cofidis 1:36

26. Mario Aerts (Bel), Davitamon-Lotto, at 1:49

27. Igor Astarloa (Sp), Barloworld, at 1:53

28. Martin Elmiger (Swi), Phonak, at 2:54

29. Nicki Sørensen (Den), CSC, at 2:54

30. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel), Discovery 2:54

31. Cédric Vasseur (Fra), Quickstep, at 2:54

32. Koos Moerenhout (Nl), Phonak, at 2:54

33. Thomas Voeckler (Fra), Bouygues Telecom, at 2:54

34. Nicolas Jalabert (Fra), Phonak, at 2:54

35. Gorazd Stangelj (Slo), Lampre, at 2:54

36. Stefano Garzelli (I), Liquigas, at 2:54

37. Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz), Crédit Agricole, at 2:54

38. Christophe Brandt (Bel), Davitamon-Lotto, at 2:54

39. Maarten Den Bakker (Nl), Milram, at 2:54

40. Francesco Bellotti (I), Crédit Agricole, at 2:54

41. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra), AG2R, at 2:54

42. Laurens Ten Dam (Nl), Unibet.com, at 2:54

43. Johan Van Summeren (Bel), Davitamon-Lotto, at 2:54

44. Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz), Milram, at 2:54

45. Salvatore Commesso (I), Lampre, at 2:54

46. Björn Leukemans (Bel), Davitamon-Lotto, at 2:54

47. Maarten Tjallingii (Nl), Skil-Shimano, at 2:54

48. Wim Van Huffel (Bel), Davitamon-Lotto, at 2:54

49. Manuele Mori (I), Saunier Duval, at 2:54

50. Kjell Carlström (Fin), Liquigas, at 2:54

51. Vladimir Gusev (Rus), Discovery, at 2:54

52. Filippo Pozzato (I), Quickstep, at 2:54

53. Francisco Mancebo Perez (Sp), AG2R, at 2:54

54. José Azevedo (Por), Discovery, at 2:54

55. Eddy Mazzoleni (I), T-Mobile , at 2:54

56. Bram Tankink (Nl), Quickstep, at 2:54

57. Axel Merckx (Bel), Phonak, at 2:54

58. Luca Paolini (I), Liquigas, at 2:54

59. Giuliano Figueras (I), Lampre, at 2:54

60. Kim Kirchen (Lux), T-Mobile , at 2:54

61. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra), Cofidis 5:31

62. Giampaolo Cheula (I), Barloworld, at 5:31

63. Aitor Perez Arrieta (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 5:31

64. Stijn Devolder (Bel), Discovery 5:47

65. Benoît Joachim (Lux), Discovery, at 5:47

66. Johan Coenen (Bel), Unibet.com, at 5:47

67. Aart Vierhouten (Nl), Skil-Shimano, at 5:47

68. Michael Blaudzun (Den), CSC, at 5:47

69. Philippe Gilbert (Bel), Française des Jeux, at 5:47

70. Heinrich Haussler (G), Gerolsteiner, at 5:47

71. Matthew Wilson (Aus), Unibet.com, at 5:47

72. Fabio Sacchi (I), Milram, at 5:47

73. Serge Baguet (Bel), Quickstep, at 5:47

74. Björn Schröder (G), Milram, at 5:47

75. Pietro Caucchioli (I), Crédit Agricole, at 5:47

76. Marco Marzano (I), Lampre, at 5:47

77. Mauro Facci (I), Barloworld, at 5:47

78. Inaki Isasi Flores (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 5:47

79. Pieter Weening (Nl), Rabobank, at 5:47

80. Markus Zberg (Swi), Gerolsteiner, at 6:02

81. Angel Vicioso Arcos (Sp), Liberty Seguros, at 6:10

82. Patrick Calcagni (Swi), Liquigas, at 6:10

83. Iker Camano Ortuzar (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 6:10

84. Luis Pasamontes Rodriguez (Sp), Unibet.com, at 6:10

85. Jens Voigt (G), CSC, at 6:10

86. David Arroyo Duran (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 6:10

87. Rubens Bertogliati (Bra), Saunier Duval, at 6:31

88. Daniel Musiol (G), Milram, at 6:31

89. Hugo Sabido (Por), Barloworld, at 6:31

90. Sebastiaan Langeveld (Nl), Skil-Shimano, at 6:31

91. Benoît Poilvet (Fra), Crédit Agricole, at 6:31

92. Walter Beneteau (Fra), Bouygues Telecom, at 6:31

93. Mads Kaggestad (Nor), Crédit Agricole, at 6:31

94. Frédéric Bessy (Fra), Cofidis, at 6:31

95. Sven Renders (Bel), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, at 6:31

96. Pieter Ghyllebert (Bel), Chocolade Jacques, at 6:31

97. Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, at 18:11

98. Marcos Antonio Serrano Rodriguez (Sp), Liberty Seguros, at 18:11

99. Joseba Albizu Lizaso (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 18:11

100. Ruben Lobato Elvira (Sp), Saunier Duval, at 18:11

101. Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz), Liberty Seguros 18:11

102. Addy Engels (Nl), Quickstep, at 18:11

103. Bert Grabsch (G), Phonak, at 18:11

104. Sandy Casar (Fra), Française des Jeux, at 18:11

105. Ryan Cox (RSA), Barloworld, at 18:11

106. Erwin Thijs (Bel), Unibet.com, at 18:11

107. José Angel Gomez Marchante (Sp), Saunier Duval 18:11