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40th Amstel Gold Race - PT

Netherlands, April 17, 2005

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Commentary by Roger Hughes with additional reporting from Jeff Jones

Complete live report

Live coverage starts: 10:21 CEST
Estimated finish time: 16:40 CEST

10:30 CEST   
Ready, set...
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
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Welcome to cool, misty Limburg where the riders have just set out on the opening kilometres of the Netherlands' biggest day of the cycling year. It was a bit damp for the official start in the centre of Maastricht, but that failed to deter the crowds who turned out in some numbers to see the riders signing on and all that stuff. We haven't received word of any non-starters yet.

Today's fifth race of the seven ProTour spring classics will be run over the usual parcours through the Limburg hills in the south of Holland, starting from Maastricht and finishing atop the Cauberg in Valkenburg 251 kilometres later. While the route lacks the cobbles of last Sunday's Paris-Roubaix, it is more than challenging with the inclusion of 31 short, steep climbs.

Davide 'Tintin' Rebellin (Gerolsteiner),
Photo ©: Jeff Jones
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Last year's winner was Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), who went onto achieve a remarkable triple by winning both the Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in the following week, becoming the first rider to win these three classics in the same year. This year, Rebellin is also targeting these races, and is nearing the top of his condition after finishing second, just three seconds behind Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas-Bianchi), in the Vuelta a Pais Vasco last week. Di Luca can also be counted among the favourites for Sunday, as he finished fourth last year and third in 2003, and is set to go a couple of steps higher on the podium.

Runner up in both Amstel and Liege in 2004 was Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), who has an impressive record in this race: one victory (1999), three second places, and one third. He has had a quiet build up to the race this year, hampered by sickness, but should be ready for the Battle on the Cauberg on Sunday. Rabobank also has Erik and Thomas Dekker, as well as Oscar Freire in its lineup, and looks to be one of the strongest teams on paper.

10:37 CEST   
George Hincapie (Discovery)
Photo ©: Jeff Jones
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After his solid second place last Sunday in Roubaix, George Hincapie is the leader of the Discovery Channel team for Amstel. Team director Johan Bruyneel commented that Hincapie has "never done very well in the few times he has taken part in the race because it used to be the last race of the spring. Now, I think he's fresher at this stage as he was out for a longer time with his illness. I think he can do a good race. He's in good shape, both mentally and physically."

Serge Baguet, Leon Van Bon, and Axel Merckx will be the riders to watch for Davitamon-Lotto. Baguet has recovered from a crash in Pais Vasco, and will hope to find his early season winning legs again. Van Bon had the misfortune to puncture out of the lead group in Paris-Roubaix last Sunday, but showed that he had excellent form by still finishing sixth.

10:39 CEST    5km/246km to go
The mist is expected to clear to a dry day with maybe a bit of sun later; no rain is expected, which is just as well on this rather convoluted course with its myriad twists, turns and traffic-calming measures (21 new speed bumps and chicanes on the course since last year, apparently). The first loop of the course heads north out of Maastricht around the airport.

11:15 CEST   
Frankly, there's not much happening yet, which is hardly unexpected on a course which tends to whittle down the field from the back. Unlike Flanders, Paris-Roubaix or Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the main obstacles - the 31 listed climbs - are not concentrated in the closing section of the race, but are spread fairly evenly throughout.

Not that we could possibly condone betting on bike racing (*checks list of advertisers*) which is a mug's game if ever there was one, but purely as a matter of academic interest, the bookies (well, mrbookmaker.com, who we can mention because they are a sponsor and all) have Michael Boogerd down as 4/1 favourite, but the amateurs on Betfair seem to be going for Alejandro Valverde and Danilo Di Luca ahead of him.

11:49 CEST    55km/196km to go
Danilo di Luca (Liquigas)
Photo ©: Jeff Jones
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We now have a first breakaway as the race comes round to finish its opening loop around the northern part of the dangly bit at the bottom right of the Netherlands, with the sixth climb being the first of three ascents of the Cauberg past the finish. Four riders are clear, one being Crédit Agricole's Christophe Moreau.

Leighton and Vicki in New Zealand ask if today's race is likely to be more of a team race than an individual's race with the teams higher up the ProTour team classification trying to control the race. I doubt it; the team classification is unlikely to get very much attention, and with there being no relegation from the ProTour circuit, the returns in terms of publicity and so on from individual race wins are likely to be far greater than the sort of consistency in mopping up the minor placings that wins points competitions (which is one reason why I never liked the World Cup, myself - it encouraged people to ride for second and cut their losses rather than taking risks to win).

12:29 CEST   
Another of the breakaways - who have a healthy 13 minutes or so ahead of an as yet uninterested peloton - is Erwin Thijs (mrbookmaker.com), who is a newish recruit to the Jacky Durand/Ludo Dierckxsens/Tomas Wegmüller "usual suspects" club; he was in the long early breakaway in Paris-Roubaix as well.

12:52 CEST    100km/151km to go
After the first hundred kilometres and nine climbs the breakaway group's lead has settled down to just over 12 minutes. The race here is now on its southernmost loop heading for the highest point in the Netherlands, which is also in Belgium and Germany - the Drielandenpunt. No signs of rare fauna in this fairly densely populated corner of the world, but our naturalists are instead keeping an eye out for the rare zinc violet, unique to the valley of the river Geul, so we hope that the spectators are being careful where they tread.

In other news, the UCI's medical inspectors picked 32 riders to be blood-tested this morning from Davitamon-Lotto, Quick.Step, Lampre, and CSC. All were declared fit to start.

13:21 CEST    120km/131km to go
Rabobank leading the peloton
Photo ©: Jeff Jones
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The mist is still hanging around, obscuring the view from the cyclingnews observation dirigible as well as keeping the temperatures down and the roads damp, with plenty of punctures as a consequence, but mercifully no major crashes.

The peloton has picked up the pace now, and the break are starting to be reeled back in as they return to Dutch soil after the brief sojourn in Belgium that follows the Drielandenpunt climb (only a couple of kilometres now, rather than the 30 km final run-in in Belgium that the previous version of the course had).

13:49 CEST    145km/106km to go
Grivko has punctured and Van Katwijk has now been dropped; they are chasing Moreau and Thijs together, while the bunch have closed the gap down to nine minutes; no big hurry yet although a few people will be twitchy after the mid-week Scheldeprijs, where the suicide breakaway unexpectedly came off, leaving the sprinters' teams with egg all over their faces.

As ever, all eyes (not least their sponsors') are on the Rabobank team in their leading domestic race. As we mentioned, the bookies are making Michael Boogerd ("practically married to this race", according to Frans Maassen) the favourite, although precedent would suggest you'd be better backing him to come fourth. We had a word with his team-mate Karsten Kroon this morning. "I feel good myself, but we have a relatively strong team with Boogerd, Dekker, and Freire. I hope that I can work well for the team. In principle, I have to ride the last 50 km. We'll see who of the four of us is left and decide who to work for".

13:57 CEST   
Boogerd and Dekker setting off
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
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The mist is still causing problems for commentators and helicopter pilots, with visibility down to 30 metres in places, but Moreau and Thijs were nonetheless clocked at 80 kph on the descent from the Eperheide climb (the 14th of the 31). Rabobank are leading the chase, and the duo's lead is steadily diminishing. Grivko and Van Katwijk are losing ground, as you might expect

14:16 CEST   
Moreau and Thijs lead over the longish drag of the Eyserweg. The peloton are still more than 8 minutes back.

We had a quick word with Christian Henn in the Gerolsteiner team car. He said that Davide Rebellin was feeling very good, like last year. His form has been getting better and better; he rode very strongly in the Basque Tour. He thinks that the Rabobank stars and Di Luca are favourites and Gerolsteiner is now forcing the pace along with their teams.

14:24 CEST    155km/96km to go
Despite the chase, the two leaders seem to have stopped the slide for the moment and the lead seems to be fluctuating around the 9 minute mark now; they're still a long way from home though and this is a course just made for riders to blow up spectacularly on.

14:40 CEST    168km/83km to go
The leaders are now onto the Sibbegrubbe, climb 20, the last before the second ascent of the Cauberg, still with 9 minutes lead.

The bunch is now somewhat diminished in size, with Bas Giling, Peter Farazijn (a crash victim earlier) and Brad McGee being among those dropped; Francisco Mancebo has packed.

14:42 CEST    172km/79km to go
Illes Balears have now moved up to join the chase on behalf of Alejandro Valverde. The two leaders are tackling the Cauberg in front of a packed crowd; as we are just over the border from Belgium there are plenty of Vlaamse Leeuwen on display, with the bearers cheering on Erwin Thijs as he hangs onto the stronger-looking (but clearly suffering) Moreau's wheel. Plenty of Germans have also taken the opportunity of nipping over the frontier as well.

14:53 CEST   
Van Katwijk and Grivko look as though they will soon be swept up by the bunch, led for the moment by Discovery Channel, who are fielding a relatively weak team in this race, with Max Van Heeswijk and George Hincapie as senior members. We spoke to Hincapie this morning in Maastricht: "This race doesn't suit me as well as Flanders. I just hope I can have decent legs and be there in the final. It's difficult to recover from Roubaix and Flanders, but I missed San Remo so I hope I still have a bit left for today."

14:57 CEST   
The two leaders are now over the Geulhemmerberg (climb 22) and onto a loop through the centre of Maastricht that will bring them back to the Bemelerberg where a puncture saw off Boogerd's chances in the World Championships in 1998. The gap is down to 7.30.

15:21 CEST    198km/53km to go
Leon van Bon (Davitamon-Lotto)
Photo ©: Jeff Jones
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The weather is stubbornly refusing to get any more commentator-friendly. On the Bemelerberg which falls in the middle of what is effectively the last relatively easy stretch of the course, the bunch has closed to 5.10, after a counter-move by Leon Van Bon (Davitamon-Lotto) pushed up the pace; he is still a few metres ahead of the bunch. After the Bemelerberg it is the better part of 15 km to climb 24, the Wolf berg, after which there are climbs more or less every 5 km all the way.

15:28 CEST   
T-Mobile's Steffen Wesemann has jumped across the gap to Van Bon and the pair are pulling back Thijs and Moreau, who now have only four and a half of their original 13 minutes' lead. The first five hours of the race have been run off at some 42 kph.

15:42 CEST   
Van Bon and Wesemann are now over half a minute clear of the bunch which means that they are pretty much out of sight in this terrain and weather; this could be a very smart move if they have the legs on the last half-dozen calf-biters (as the Dutch call them). Moreau and Thijs still have just under four minutes, but it's looking hard for them.

15:45 CEST    209km/42km to go
Jens Voigt (CSC) is now chancing his hand by trying to get across to Wesemann and Van Bon, who are closing fast on the two leaders. Bos, Kano, Baguet, and Vierhouten are among those dropped.

15:52 CEST    214km/37km to go
Voigt's attempt comes to nothing and he is back in the bunch as the race hits the Wolfsberg.

15:56 CEST    218km/33km to go
On the Loorberg (climb 25) the lead is melting away like snow in summer (and unlike Limburg fog); less than a minute now and Moreau and Thijs are definitely doomed.

16:04 CEST    224km/27km to go
As the Wesemann/Van Bon tandem closes in on Thijs and Moreau, the bunch in turn is closing in on them; their advantage is back down to 20 seconds.

They are caught at the foot of the Gulperberg after more than 200 km in the lead.

16:09 CEST    227km/24km to go
Moreau and Thijs tag on to Van Bon and Wesemann, but it looks as though the bunch (Rabobank massed to the fore) will be on them very soon. Moreau and Thijs lose contact on the Kruisberg.

16:19 CEST    232km/19km to go
Karsten Kroon (Rabobank) interviewed
Photo ©: Jeff Jones
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On the Eyserbosweg climb Wesemann dropped Van Bon just as David Etxebarria, Mark Lotz and Karsten Kroon jumped across to them; the quartet have pulled it out to 20 seconds but it looks like the 20% slopes of the Keutenberg will be the decider again this year.

16:21 CEST    236km/15km to go
The quartet take the top of the Fromberg with 22 seconds lead, with just two more climbs to go.

16:27 CEST    241km/10km to go
The four of them are moving clear now, 356 seconds lead on the run in to the Keutenberg; Kroon looks like he is getting his chance from Rabobank; Lotz (who is a local Limburgerborn in Valkenburg) will be desperate to show Rabobank that they made a mistake in letting him go. Wesemann will want to make up for missing out in the Ronde because of illness. Etxebarria is always up for it. A chasing group of 10 riders has formed half a minute behind them.

16:30 CEST   
And the chasing group has the names we've been waiting for in it: Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Rodriguez (Saunier Duval), Leukemans (Davitamon-Lotto), Valverde (Illes Balears), Sinkewitz (Quick.Step), Celestino (Domina), Kirchen (Fassa), Di Luca (Liquigas), Boogerd, Freire (Rabobank).

16:34 CEST    243km/8km to go
The four leaders have 18 seconds on the ten chasers, with the peloton another 10 seconds or so behind them.

16:36 CEST    245km/6km to go
Over the Keutenberg and the chasers are closing in, just 8 seconds now

16:37 CEST    247km/4km to go
The leaders are on the descent of the Sibbegrubbe now, almost at the foot of the Cauberg

16:38 CEST   
30 riders are together, as the various front groups have reformed. This could be a bunch sprint on the Cauberg...

16:39 CEST    249km/2km to go
2 kilometres to go, and this group of 30, with all the favourites, are together. This should be one hell of a sprint...

16:40 CEST   
Oscar Freire and Davide Rebellin have to be favourites for this kind of a finish. Also Di Luca.

16:40 CEST    250km/1km to go
Dekker is leading the bunch now. They're at the foot of the Cauberg.

16:41 CEST    250.5km/0.5km to go
Rabobank is controlling the front group, hoping for a home win. Kroon leads, then Dekker takes over, Boogerd in third, then Freire...

16:43 CEST    251km/0km to go
Dekker buries himself, then Boogerd takes over with Freire behind. Here comes Di Luca, he moves up next to Boogerd, then Murn(?) takes a flyer for Phonak. Nope, now Boogerd jumps with Rebellin following.

250m to go and it's Boogerd, Di Luca and Rebellin. Then Freire.

Di Luca is too good and wins the Amstel Gold Race!! Boogerd second, again...

Celestino takes third ahead of last year's winner Rebellin. Freire was out of the top 8 - the Rabobank lead out was perfect, except for the last man. Boogerd wasn't prepared to do the sprint, and was somewhat dismayed that Freire couldn't follow. Well, that's how it goes!

Thanks for following us once again - we'll be back next week with the Tour de Georgia, La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The fun never stops.


1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas - Bianchi                        
2 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank                                 
3 Mirko Celestino (Ita) Domina Vacanze                           
4 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner                             
5 Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems    
6 Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) Quickstep                               
7 Björn Leukemans (Bel) Davitamon - Lotto                        
8 David Etxebarria Alkorta (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Würth Team      
Pro Tour standings
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quickstep                                  112 pts
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                      93
3 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas - Bianchi                      91
4 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank                            79
5 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel                      75
5 Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC                                  75
7 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Gerolsteiner                              70
8 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Fassa Bortolo             55

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