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Photo ©: Swift

Amstel Gold Race Cycling News for April 17, 2006

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

Schleck makes it two from two for CSC

A happy winner of the 41st Amstel Gold Race
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

An attack over the top of the Kuetenberg with 10 km to go has given Frank Schleck (CSC) his biggest career win, and CSC's second classic win in a row after Cancellara's Paris-Roubaix success. The Luxembourger powered away from a select lead group over the final kilometres, and had enough left over at the foot of the Cauberg to hold off Steffen Wesemann, who successfully attacked for second place. Rounding out the podium was the always consistent Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), who easily won the group sprint to the top of the finishing climb.

The 41st edition of the race was characterised by a very wet start, and an early breakaway consisting of Christophe Moreau (AG2R), who attacked after 20 km and was joined by Erwin Thijs (Unibet.com), Michael Albasini (Liquigas), Bram Schmitz (T-Mobile) and René Weissinger (Skil-Shimano). The latter was DQ'd from the race after he punctured at km 50 and chased back on behind his team car. The four remaining leaders gained as much as 11'48 before the first passage of the finish line (km 64), but were hunted down by Rabobank. Thijs and Albasini survived until 50 km to go when the T-Mobile driven counter-attacks behind caught them.

At 35 km to go, Wesemann went for it alone and built up a lead of half a minute as the peloton reduced in size behind him. With 14 km to go, Paolo Bettini bridged across to the German, but the pair were caught on the steep Kuetenberg shortly afterwards by Schleck, Kroon (CSC), Ivanov, Sinkewitz (T-Mobile), Boogerd (Rabobank), Perdiguero (Phonak), Sanchez (Euskaltel) and Rebellin (Gerolsteiner). But on the false flat over the top of the climb, Schleck placed his winning attack and no-one was able to match it. The CSC rider finished with 20 seconds to spare on Wesemann, and approximately half a minute on Boogerd.

Also see: Full report, results & photos.

Wesemann the strongest but perhaps not the smartest

By Brecht Decaluwé in Valkenburg, Netherlands

Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile)
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

Steffen Wesemann was probably the strongest man in the race today but had to settle for second place. "Knowing that I was alone in the lead for such a long time makes it easier to be happy with that second place," Wesemann said. "I really felt that I was the strongest man in the race. Despite the team didn't get the win at the end, I'm happy with my performance."

Wesemann attacked with some 40km to go, which looked like a bit of a mission impossible at first: "It looked impossible, but I wanted to do something if we wanted to unrest the force of the Rabobank team. They had to offer some riders in the pursuit; then the race was on for everyone. Why not attack, because you never know how it's going to end up?" he said.

The Swiss-German rider from the T-Mobile team added couldn't ride how he wanted to in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix because some health problems: "In Milano-Sanremo, I became ill and had to take antibiotics. I kept training and racing and that was wrong. With the Tour of Flanders coming up, I acknowledged that I had to do be smart if I wanted to get some results in my races. I skipped the Tour of Flanders and had some rest for four days in a row; then I raced in Paris-Roubaix. After Paris-Roubaix, I did some specific training on a route near my place, with the goal to be in form at the Amstel Gold Race."

With his fitness level right now, 'Wese' believes he can do well in the other Ardennes classics: "My form is alright, so I'll give my very best in Liège," he said.

Boogerd boogie-woogies to another podium

By Brecht Decaluwé in Valkenburg, Netherlands

Michael Boogerd (Rabobank),
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Today's third place for Michael Boogerd was his seventh podium finish and ninth top-ten finish in his nation's most important race. "I was surprised that Freire wasn't there in the leading group because he was very good in the Vuelta a Pais Vasco; Valverde also rode strong over there and he wasn't in the lead, either," he said. "Apparently, the racing style here is a bit different. It was a strange race for me because I was a little trapped in team tactics."

Some journalists questioned the Rabobank tactics again, but Boogerd responded by saying: "The others teams just don't take their responsibility. We can't allow the early break an advantage of 15 minutes, because then you're in major trouble. If you think you have a possible winner in your team, you should take your responsibility and offer maybe one man in the chase group."

Asked if he could have adopted a different strategy by trying to catch Schleck instead of waiting for Freire, Boogerd said: "Ah, there will always be some critic if you don't win. It is true, I didn't study at the university, but I'm not stupid. I'm not Eddy Merckx, so I can't react on every attack. If you look around and you see three T-Mobile riders and Paolo Bettini, then I know I'd better spare some energy; if I would've chased Schleck and lost the sprint against Bettini, the crowd would probably put me in oil and feathers. I hoped the others would come back and maybe Freire still had a good sprint in his legs. My gamble was that T-Mobile would chase Schleck back - they didn't.

The always-smiling Dutchman said his feet are still a little sore after breaking his toe earlier in the season, but it certainly isn't holding him back going uphill. "Sitting on the bike is just not comfortable these days. My foot is not flexible; that makes it impossible to make a full acceleration at the foot of a hill. When the tempo has risen, I can do what I want.

"It pleased me that I could follow Bettini on the Fromberg. On the Keutenberg, nobody could follow me; at that moment, I felt that I was the strongest rider uphill. Then Schleck took some advantage and we never saw him again.

However, Rabobank led the peloton the whole day long, and this probably had an influence on the team's results. "It didn't feel that bad, not for me, that is," said Boogerd. "Until the Geulhemmerberg, I didn't have to do anything, as the race is actually just starting over there [after 175km, with 75km to go - ed.]. Sadly, we missed out in most of the breakaways so we had to offer both our Dekkers [to chase, Thomas and Erik]. Thomas Dekker was riding really strong because despite doing all that work, he still survived in the finale until the Eyserbosweg."

However, 'Boogie' has another chance next Sunday in Liège-Bastogne-Liège: "I hope to be just as good as today. Every year is different; sometimes I'm better in Liège, the other year I'm stronger in Valkenburg. I'll try to recover from this race now with a long training ride on Wednesday. Afterwards, I'll take as much rest as possible to be fresh at the start in Liège. My main goal will be to make the difference uphill, making it possible to ride without headaches concerning team tactics. The main advantage in Liège is that the race is less nervous. It's also good for me to see that Paolo Bettini is riding well - he's always in for an attack, trying to shape the race," he said.

Added Boogerd: "We can also play the card of Thomas Dekker; if he gets in an early break, that could result in having an extra team-mate in the finale."

Not a moment too soon for Kroon

By Brecht Decaluwé in Valkenburg, Netherlands

Karsten Kroon (CSC)
Photo ©: Brecht Decaluwé
(Click for larger image)

Fourth-placed Karsten Kroon (CSC) also proved that he can handle the pressure of the team leadership in a major Classic, attacking on occasions that allowed team-mate Fränk Schleck to save his energy for the finale.

"Fränk [Schleck] was probably the strongest man in the race today," said Kroon. "When he attacked, I didn't need to work but I could do some blocking work behind him. We started with equal chances today, and that we would work for each other; seeing him win the race gives me a great feeling. I'm glad that I could show the public what my abilities are, and for next week, I hope to be there in the finale again," said the Dutchman.

Talking about how the race unfolded from his perspective, Kroon said: "I suffered some cramps at the Keutenberg. The race was really hard right from the start, the rain and the cold temperatures didn't help either." Referring to his team switch from Rabobank to CSC at the end of last season, the former domestique of Michael Boogerd was extremely pleased: "Nothing against Boogerd, he's a great guy, but it's nice for me to see that I was forcing the race in its decisive order at the Eyserbosweg.

"Boogerd had to follow me, instead of the other way around. It was an honest fight and it gave me a good feeling to ride the race like that. We got in the finale with equal chances - it was him or me. If you see how he got away, you know he was the strongest. The victory remains in the team and that is the most important thing."

The best of the Belgians

By Brecht Decaluwé in Valkenburg, Netherlands

With no Tom Boonen or Peter Van Petegem at the start in Maastricht, Cyclingnews was curious to see who would be the best Belgian in today's Amstel Gold.

Björn Leukemans, who finished in 46th place, wasn't the first Belgian at the line but he was there when things unfolded at the Eyserbosweg. However, when we saw him, Leukemans was swearing at everyone and anybody, asking for team assistance at the top of the climb: "My chain almost dropped there," he said.

"There was a gap and we had to work extremely hard to close it down. I couldn't recuperate from that effort and was dropped immediately at the Fromberg. Until the Eyserbosweg, I didn't do anything unnecessarily, but I immediately felt that I wasn't as strong as I wanted to be. Last year, I could follow all these riders, so I expected far more from [myself in] this race. We all know that my form will not improve enough in one week in time for Liège-Bastogne-Liège."

Also in the picture today was Belgian Unibet rider Erwin Thijs, who found himself in the early move, and his penchant for the EB (early break) leads us to make comparisons with the always attacking Frenchman Jacky Durand, who is now retired: "He is a big example for me," admitted Thijs.

Cyclingnews first spoke with him at the start in Maastricht, who said he was ready for an early move and that the bad weather was to his advantage. "It's my goal to get into those early breaks once or twice in the big Spring Classics. This year, I couldn't manage to do so at the Tour of Flanders, so I had to wait a bit longer," he said.

And just like last year, Christophe Moreau was also in the early break, so did Thijs make an arrangement with the French rider? "Yes, we did, right at the start line. He was riding very strongly but suddenly he was dropped; I don't know what happened with him. Next week we'll try it again, but now I'll have to recuperate from this hard day at the office," he said.

Nonetheless, the Unibet.com rider looked pleased with his efforts. He gave us a look at his bike computer: six hours and 30 minutes on the bike with an average heartbeat of 156; burning some 7319 calories. "I'll need five [plates of] pasta this evening to get those calories back," said Thijs, laughing.

Le Cauberg: A bientôt

By Anthony Tan in Valkenburg, Netherlands

Not only the finale of the current and past editions of the Amstel Gold Race, Valkenburg has played host to the 1998 world road championships, won by Swiss Oscar Camenzind. This year, this petite community of less than 20 thousand people will also be the finishing town for the third stage of the 93rd Tour de France.

The Netherlands is one of three countries to France's northeast that find themselves part of the sporting world's largest annual sporting event in 2006, the other two being Luxembourg and Belgium. On Tuesday, July 4 and starting in town of Esch-sur-Alzette on the France/Luxembourg border, the peloton head nor'-nor'-west into Belgium after 92 kilometres, passing through the Provinces of Luxembourg and Liege, before entering the Netherlands' Province of Limburg at km 186.

From the town of Hoogcruts (Margraten) just 30.5 kilometres are left to ride, but in the vein of the Amstel Gold finale, the 215.5 kilometre stage will finish atop the Cauberg, and just like it did today, the short but savage climb is likely to create some modest time gaps at the head of general classification, if the prologue in Strasbourg hasn't already done so.

One dead at Amstel Cyclosportive

A 51 year-old Dutchman died while participating in the Amstel Gold Race Cyclosportive ride on Saturday, April 15. The man, who hadn't registered in the event but nevertheless rode in the bunch of cyling tourists, became ill during the ascent if the Cauberg, the race's last climb in Valkenburg, and died shortly after.

As the man wasn't in possession of a start number or identification papers, it took a while for police officers to find out who he was. The Amstel tourist ride gathers 12.000 cyclists every year, as well as many riders who do not sign in.

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