Perhaps Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will never win the Amstel Gold Race. It’s not for trying. And for the third time in his career, he was on the final podium Sunday, behind a superb Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step), who relegated Spain’s “Green Bullet” to second in the Dutch classic.
“I couldn’t ask for a better result than second,” Valverde said Sunday after the second Amstel Gold Race runner-up finish of his career. “It’s a more open finish than right at the top of the Cauberg, with a field sprint like today. We did everything we could.”
The 34-year-old Spaniard confirmed yet again he is one of the most consistent performers across the hilly classics in Belgium and the Netherlands. Sunday’s podium was his 11th top-3 in the Ardennes of his career.
Valverde overcame a mechanical problem with 45 kilometers to go to remain in the elite group. Movistar helped reel in late-race attacks to deliver Valverde in ideal position at the base of the last of three assaults up the Cauberg climb that would decide everything.
Since organizers moved the finish line in 2013 to more than one kilometer past the top of the Cauberg, the finale has become more complicated, changing the way the peloton attacks the short but steep climb that typically decides the race.
Valverde said he was boxed in near the bottom of the Cauberg, but followed a gap opened up by the attacking Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), who gassed it midway up the climb.
“I saw Gilbert open up a big gap, and I had legs to follow. I was hoping to leave Gilbert and [Orica-GreenEdge’s Michael] Matthews behind, but they didn’t let me go,” Valverde said. “I was one of the strongest today, and I came second, again really close, so we have to be happy with that.”
The Cauberg is a climb he has yet to master. On the same finale during the 2012 world road cycling championships, Valverde also finished third, behind winner Gilbert and runner-up Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Confirming that he’s in top shape, Valverde now turns his attention to Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne, where he will line up as defending champion. But it’s Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which he won in 2006 and 2008, where he believes he has the best chances for another big victory.
“Liège is the race of the three where I have the best chances, the route that favors me the most, but we cannot rule anything out Wednesday,” he said. “The new climb with 5km to go should change the race and force the peloton to ride faster, but I think there are many riders in similar condition. I don’t see anyone standing out. The battle will be close Wednesday and again on Sunday.”