Glass empty for ill Evans at Amstel Gold

Felix Lowe Columnist

By Felix Lowe, Felix Lowe is a Roar Expert

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    The first one-day race of the Ardennes Classic calendar ended in disappointment for Australia with Cadel Evans pulling out of the Amstel Gold race with 65km to go and Simon Gerrans having to settle for 20th place in the Netherlands.

    Running over 31 punchy climbs in the Limberg region, the undulating 260km race is seen as the curtain raiser to the Ardennes Week, which continues with the forthcoming Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege races.

    With a finish line at the top of the tricky Cauberg climb (maximum gradient 13%) both Evans and Gerrans certainly had the right profile on paper.

    But Tour de France champion Evans pulled out of the race after missing the split ahead of the first ascent of the Cauberg, the BMC rider later revealing that he was fighting an infection that had made his participation touch and go.

    “I’m a bit disappointed I’m not on the front with the guys,” the Australian told Cyclingnews while making his way to the team bus following his withdrawal.

    “I’ve been having a little trouble with an infection and didn’t know if I’d be good here or not. Evidently I’m not good enough to be competitive and am not able to help the guys in the final today.”

    In Evans’s absence, BMC team-mate Philippe Gilbert did his best to notch his first win of the season – and a record-equalling third successive Amstel Gold crown.

    Gilbert’s early attack on the final ascent of the Cauberg brought about the capture of Spaniard Oscar Freire of Katusha, who had broken clear with 7km remaining. But the Belgian national champion faded, eventually taking sixth place behind surprise winner, the Italian Enrico Gasparotto (Astana).

    Speculation is futile, but had an in-form Evans been present in the final climb to support Gilbert, things may have panned out rather differently.

    Gilbert certainly looked isolated, and his early attack was probably a last throw of the dice from a rider who knew he would not win a competitive sprint atop the Cauberg.

    BMC’s quest for an open win this season continues. So far, the most expensively assembled squad in pro cycling has just an Evans ITT scalp and overall victory in the lowly Criterium International to show for their dollars.

    While Alessandro Ballan was a constant threat in Flanders, new signings Thor Hushovd and Gilbert have been woefully short of form, while Evans looks a shadow of the rider who wore the yellow jersey into Paris last July.

    Evans will now focus on recovering before Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne, a race he won back in 2010, or Sunday’s monument of Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

    After that, Evans aims to defend his overall win in the six-day Tour of Romandie.

    While a concern, the 35-year-old’s wobbly form is not yet something to lose too much sleep about. Of his major rivals for the Tour de France, only Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky has come out of the traps well so far this season – and Wiggins has not ridden a successful Grande Boucle since 2009.

    But if the setbacks continue to accumulate for Evans, then the pressure may mount. Evans is a notorious worrier, a ‘confidence rider’ if ever there was one; he needs to be in the right frame of mind to excel. Being forced to retire from a one-day race is not something he will want to repeat.

    No such similar issues for Gerrans, who was simply unlucky in the hilly Dutch countryside on Sunday. As they had done so well in Milan-San Remo, Gerrans’ GreenEdge team had protected their man well for most of the day, and the 31-year-old was perfectly placed in the main group as they hit final climb of the Cauberg.

    But just as Gilbert increased the tempo in pursuit of the fading Freire, a collision between Italy’s Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Sky’s Lars Petter Nordhaug forced a split in the pack – and Gerrans was one of the handful of favourites who were caught up in the debris.

    Also held up were Spanish pre-race favourites Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) – and it was a shame that fans were deprived the chance of seeing Gerrans and Valverde renew their blossoming rivalry (the Spaniard has twice pipped the Australian in punchy uphill sprint finishes this season).

    With many caught out by the crash, the scene looked set for Slovakian sensation Peter Sagan to net his first major classics win. But the Liquigas youngster ran out of gas inside the final 20m and was overtaken by Gasparotto and the rangy Belgian Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol).

    The three made up an unlikely podium after what had been a slightly underwhelming race. With the heroics of Tom Boonen in the Flanders classics still fresh in the mind, Amstel Gold was perhaps always going to be rather an anticlimax – even if it’s a race sponsored by a brewery.

    Gerrans, certainly, and Evans, possibly, will be back in action for the two major Ardennes races later this week. And after so many riders missing a trick on Sunday, we can expect fireworks.

    Felix Lowe
    Felix Lowe

    Felix Lowe is an English photographer, writer and Arsenal fan with a penchant for pro-cycling. Eurosport writer and blogger, Felix has covered the major cycling races in the pro calendar for the past decade and is now taking up the sport himself, at the ripe age of 31.

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    The Crowd Says (5)

    • April 16th 2012 @ 3:04pm
      GreenEDGEFans said | April 16th 2012 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

      Simon Gerrans and Cadel Evans not marked to race Fleche Wallonne. Disagree race was exciting great breakaway two neo-pro’s Bardet and Howes going for broke. Freire last 11 K breakway. Gilbert’s dash and Sagan,Vanendert and Gasparotto going for it at the end made a very exciting race. They were shattered and put it all fully on the line 😀

      • Columnist

        April 16th 2012 @ 4:05pm
        Felix Lowe said | April 16th 2012 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

        You’re right – it was great to see the neo-pros stay out so long and it was perhaps harsh to write a piece on the Amstel Gold Race without giving them at least a passing mention. Freire’s attack was out of character and very exciting – either he knew he stood no chance if it came to a bunch finish, or he was paving the way for Rodriguez. If the latter, old Oscar was unlucky that Katusha’s trump card was hindered by that Cunego crash. As for the final three – yes, they were completely shattered. As the French say – they were HS (hors service – out of service). The sprint looked like it was in slow motion – Sagan in particular hit the wall and came to a virtual standstill. Thrilling stuff – but admittedly at the end of a very long race.

    • April 16th 2012 @ 7:03pm
      liquor box said | April 16th 2012 @ 7:03pm | ! Report

      I think Gilbert showed he is now finding form, he would have had the pace to win a sprint if he did not have to do all of the work on the last climb. It was one of the better finishes in a while, very close and exciting to the end.

    • April 17th 2012 @ 9:11am
      Justin Curran said | April 17th 2012 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      I agree it was slightly underwhelming, but I also agree that was probably due to it not comparing to the heroics of Tom Boonan on the cobblestones. The Eurosport commentators took the sting out of Freire’s attack by pretty much dooming it to failure from the outset.

    • Columnist

      April 17th 2012 @ 10:15am
      Felix Lowe said | April 17th 2012 @ 10:15am | ! Report

      News just in: Cadel Evans will not race the Fleche or LBL. He will sit out the remaining Ardennes Classics and try to focus on getting rid of his sinus infection ahead of the Tour of Romandie. The weather in Belgium and Luxembourg at the moment is pretty cold and wet, so it’s probably the best choice. He’s clearly pedalling squares at the moment so there’s no point exacerbating the situation.

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