Welcome to today’s Monday Musette, where we wrap-up this weekend’s highlight race, the Amstel Gold, and use riders’ and teams’ performances in the race to speculate wildly about the rest of the Ardennes classics as the race season shifts from the pavé to the hills.
1. Phillipe Gilbert! What an incredible rider he is: in order to win his second consecutive Amstel win, he chased Andy Schleck’s solo move in the final 10 kilometers, lead himself out, and sprinted for a very dominant win. It was his race to lose, but he sealed the deal to mark a very successful start to the Ardennes races, as his win in Amstel came just a few days after his win at Brabantse Pijl.
If you thought that he would have a hard time pulling it off, you weren’t alone. It looked as though Gilbert may have been burning too many matches. He is a smart rider, but he tends more toward the “headbanger” school of thought than “race like you have one bullet in your gun.” Indeed, this may have cost him Milan San Remo, as he was doing a lot of work on the Poggio to keep attackers close before joining the winning move. It worked out for him at Amstel, though – possibly because he simply has the most power on a power climb.
2. Joaquin Rodriguez – is this guy ever constantly awesome, or what? Katusha’s Rodriguez/Kolobnev combination makes a powerful one-two punch that can redeem Katusha from their dismal cobbled campaign. Rodriguez knows how he and Gilbert match up – see point 1 about power climbs – but also knows that the tables can be turned: “On Wednesday [at Flèche Wallonne], though, the roles are turned around and I’ll be the favourite.” Second place at Amstel is a fine start to the week, but Rodriguez ought to be careful – he seems to get more big 2nd places than big wins.
3. If Andy Schleck could corner like his teammate Cancellara, would he have won? He made his escape at the same place where his brother Frank attacked to win the ’06 Amstel, and gained 10 seconds or so in front of the dozen pursuers. More capable cornering could have gained him a few more in the run-in to the finish in the final few kilometers, and though it may not have been enough, it’s a reminder that at the end of 260k, races can come down to very small variables.
4. Oscar Freire impressed by being the “sprinter” in an increasingly select group of attackers. Indeed, Rabobank was in full force at the front of the race in the last 20k, with Freire, Luis Leon Sanchez, and Robert Gesink near the front. They didn’t convert their capable teamwork to a win this time, but as the Ardennes races are about team control and tactics, their performance at Amstel is encouraging for the rest of their week.
5. Samuel Sanchez didn’t make the selection; nor did Damiano Cunego, Sylvain Chavanel (though he came through in the second group – is he just going to kick ass clear into the summer, or what?), Alexander Vinokourov, or Jurgen Van Den Brouck. Keep an eye on these guys being out for revenge at Fleche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
6. Vacansoleil, OmegaPharma-Lotto, and Katusha each did a good job getting multiple riders into the final move; Vacansoleil had Bjorn Leukemans and Johnny Hoogerland in front with Stijn Devolder behind as an ace in the hole, Katusha had the Rodriguez/Kolobnev threat pair, and OmegaPharma-Lotto burnt Jelle Vanendert’s matches before opening Gilbert’s book. Leopard-Trek also had numbers, with Andy and Jacob Fuglsang up front while Fabian Cancellara and Frank Schleck were only removed from the action due to an unfortunate mechanical and tumble. One can’t help but wonder if using all four of them at the front could have topped Gilbert.
7. Liquigas, where were you? Same goes for Garmin-Cervelo. The answer the latter was that they were present until Joaquim Rodriguez lit the fireworks with 30k to go, and then they joined Euskatel as casualties of the race.
8. RadioShack’s Ben Hermans finished 9th – an impressive result that follows his 12th at last week’s Brabantse Pijl.
9. To return to Gilbert – he’s a locked-on favorite for any race that finishes with a powerclimb, and he’s a clear contender for other major races like Milan-San Remo and de Ronde. But, though he can dispatch his rivals in a race like Amstel with apparent ease, he struggles in some other races – his attacks are shut down and courses either prove too selective or not selective enough for him to succeed. Thus, we can’t help but ask the question – what will it take for him to win Milan-San Remo or de Ronde? As well as that question’s corollary: what would it have taken to beat Gilbert at Amstel?
The answer lies in some alchemy of teamwork. Though Gilbert often has capable domestiques (see, for example, Greipel’s hard work leading up to the Poggio to keep the FDJ tag-team attack within reach during Milan-San Remo), maybe OmegaPharma-Lotto needs another powerful threat to serve as a foil for Gilbert and prevent him from being too closely marked. Meanwhile to be beaten in a race like Amstel, maybe Leopard-Trek would indeed have needed the four-man counterpunch factory of Andy, Frank, Fabian, and Jacob. Personally, I hope that Gilbert figures out how to win more Monuments before other people learn how to beat him in the consolation prize races that populate his scoresheet.
That’s all for today’s Monday Musette. Who impressed you during Amstel Gold, and what does that say about the upcoming Fleche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege? Share your thoughts below, and stay tuned for our Fleche Wallone preview.