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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, April 17, 2017

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2017 Tour de France | 2017 Giro d'Italia

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Philippe Gilbert out of remaining Ardennes Classics

Here's the Team Quick Step Floors press release with the bad news:

The 2011 winner of Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège will not line up for this year's edition of the two races.

Winner of Amstel Gold Race, where he made history with his victory, Philippe Gilbert will stop his Spring Classics campaign as consequence of his crash on Sunday's race. Following the victory ceremony and the press conference, the Belgian Champion went to the hospital for medical examinations, as he still felt pain on his right side, consequence of the crash in which he was involved during the race.

Philippe Gilbert

Philppe Gilbert enjoying his historic Amstel Gold Race victory, not knowing he'd injured his kidney.

At the hospital, where he was joined by the Quick-Step Floors doctor, he was diagnosed with a minor right kidney tear, which requires a week of complete recovery, meaning that Philippe will be forced to skip Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

"When I crashed, I felt pain, but once I remounted and continued the race things became better and better and the pain disappeared. Unfortunately, after the finish, the lower back pain returned, so together with the team doctor I decided to go to the hospital for a check-up. Fortunately, it's nothing serious, and if everything goes well, in a week I will start training again", said the 34-year-old.

The third rider in history to win Ronde van Vlaanderen and Amstel Gold Race in the same season, Philippe made an analysis of his successful Spring Campaign: "It's one of my best years and looking behind on what I achieved makes me very happy. To be competitive in both the cobbled and the Ardennes Classics and to help the team be the best in the world brings me a lot of satisfaction. It's sad I won't be there for the remaining races of this week, because I was in great condition, but our squad is a strong one and I'm confident other good results will follow."

Philippe Gilbert will remain under observation at the hospital for a further 24 hours, before getting the green light from the doctors to go home.

Amstel Gold Race team reports

Here's the news from Team Quick-Step Floors:

Philippe Gilbert's fantastic spring season continued on Easter Sunday, as the 34-year-old outsprinted Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) to win his fourth Amstel Gold Race, following the victories of 2010, 2011 and 2014, an achievement which took him to second in the all-time winners list, behind home rider Jan Raas.

A 261km-course, with 35 climbs packed between Maastricht and Berg en Terblijt, and a new final awaited at the start of the 52nd edition, which saw Quick-Step Floors deploy a very strong team, which included, besides Gilbert, also Gianluca Brambilla, Dries Devenyns, Bob Jungels, Daniel Martin, Maximilian Schachmann, Zdenek Stybar and Petr Vakoč.

As always, Amstel Gold Race was a tough and nervous affair, made so by the challenging course and the road furniture which led to several crashes. In one of these, Philippe Gilbert was among the riders to hit the deck, but fortunately he was left unscathed and quickly remounted and continued the race. At the front of the peloton, a strong and concerted chase behind the 12-man original breakaway meant the peloton came back together with around 45 kilometers remaining, signaling the start of a new race.

On Kruisberg, the day's 29th climb, Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) attacked and Quick-Step Floors' Belgian Champion was the first to respond. Six other men followed that move and in the blink of an eye they went clear, opening a small gap on a chasing group which included Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and a remarkable Bob Jungels, who marked his opponents' attempts.

By the foot of the Cauberg (900 meters, 7%), which was climbed for the last time on the day inside the final 20 kilometers, the leaders – with a very active Philippe Gilbert, who took some long turns at the front and pushed relentlessly to ensure the move will stick – increased their advantage to 40 seconds. On Bemelerberg, which this year had the honor of featuring as the final climb of what proved to be a very exciting edition of Amstel Gold Race, Kwiatkowski went, only to be soon countered by Philippe.

Things didn't stop there, as the Ronde van Vlaanderen winner accelerated over the top, taking only the Pole with him. Together, they built a solid gap, which allowed them to play a cat and mouse game in the closing kilometer. With 700 meters to go, Philippe was at the front, soft-pedalling and looking over his shoulder at the Milano-Sanremo champion, who decided to open his sprint at the 300m-to-go mark.

Despite Kwiatkowski putting several bike lengths into him, Gilbert didn't panic and timed his sprint perfectly, taking full advantage of the headwind to catch his rival and surpass him 50 meters from the line, before raising the four fingers of his right hand to show the number of victories he took throughout his career in Amstel Gold Race.

Philippe Gilbert

Gilbert gets his fourth Amstel Gold Race

"We went early, on the Kruisberg, and we worked really well together. All the guys deserved to win, because they did a great job helping the group go. On Bemelerberg, I could see everyone was as their limit, but I attacked and got a gap with Kwiatkowski. He surprised me a little bit in the sprint, but knowing there was a headwind I remained calm and got closer and closer", said Philippe Gilbert after achieving the stellar feat of becoming the third rider in history to win Ronde van Vlaanderen and Amstel Gold Race in the same season.

"Today's race was hard and we rode aggressively, but this is my favourite way of racing. I'm not scared of this and I'm very happy of how things panned out. It was a perfect day! My goal every season is to win a Classic. Now it is already two and this is maybe for the years I didn't win one", concluded the Quick-Step Floors rider after bringing the team's 24th victory of the year and helping the squad managed by Patrick Lefevere to further extend its lead at the top of the World Tour standings.

Here's what Orica-Scott had to say:

2017 Vuelta al Pais Vasco stage winner Michael Albasini has sprinted to a strong third place at Amstel Gold Race today. The result gives Orica-Scott two podiums on the opening weekend of the Ardennes after Annemiek van Vleuten also took third in the women’s race earlier in the afternoon.

Albasini reacted instinctively to a strong move of eight that went with just under 40km to go. Philippe Gilbert (QST) and Michal Kwiatowski (SKY) escaped from the lead group in the latter stages of racing to finish first and second respectively, whilst Albasini won the sprint for third.

Michael Albasini

Albasini gets third

“It was fast but steady for the first part of the race so we knew it was going to kick off at some point,” Albasini explained. “My role was to jump with some of the key guys and once I saw (Sergio) Henao and Gilbert go, I reacted straight away. I didn’t think that we could stay away but in the end it was strong group and we kept riding all the time so we kept away.

“At the end, I had nothing left. Those two guys just had a little bit more left in the legs so they rode away and the rest of us were actually pretty cooked.”

Whilst it wasn’t a win, the result gives Albasini podium results at all three Ardennes – Amstel, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

“Cooked or not cooked a podium at Amstel is really good,” the 36-year-old said. “Actually now I have podiumed on all three Ardennes so I am really happy with that. We didn’t have any of the big favourites for the race today but we have pulled off a podium so that’s really good for us.”

How it happened:

Riders set off in dim but dry conditions for the opening Ardennes Classic in Holland. An early breakaway of 12 riders rode away and gained a maximum advantage of around eight minutes before the peloton started to peg them back.

With 75km to go BMC Racing Team put on the pressure in the bunch and their advantage dropped swiftly to be within a minute 10km later. The bunch was completely back together at 40km to go before the eventual winning move of eight made their move.

The group, containing Albasini, worked well together and despite only holding an advantage of less than a minute, managed to stay away. In the last 10km Gilbert and Kwiatowski attacked, those remaining from the lead group were left to fight it out for third.

Lotto-Soudal sent me this Amstel Gold report:

The new finale of the Amstel Gold Race didn’t keep Philippe Gilbert from winning for the fourth time. The race exploded early than previous years. Tim Wellens and Tiesj Benoot attacked in the finale. Unfortunately, Tiesj had mechanical problems.

The early break consisted of twelve riders. They had a maximal advantage of 8’20”. At that moment Lotto Soudal set a rider at the head of the bunch, together with Sunweb. Later, BMC took over. The last escapee got reeled in with forty kilometres to go, just before the Kruisberg. Tiesj Benoot accelerated on that hill. The Lotto Soudal rider got in front with seven others. Unfortunately, Tiesj had chain problems after a contact with José Joaquin Rojas and he had to let go of the front group. Tim Wellens immediately set up a counterattack. On the Keutenberg some riders jumped away from the bunch and caught Tim. He became part of a chasing group with Felline, Van Avermaet and Valverde. Michal Kwiatkowski was able to bridge to the front. The group with Tim – which was joined by Barguil, Jungels and Rui Costa – couldn’t close the gap on the leaders and got caught by the bunch. On the Bemelerberg, the last hill of the day, Philippe Gilbert and Michal Kwiatkowski attacked in front. They battled for the win. Gilbert beat Kwiatkowski in the sprint.

Tim Wellens: “The plan was that I, Tiesj Beoot or Jelle Vanendert would attack in the finale. It was a perfect situation when Tiesj was part of the front group, but suddenly he was distanced because of a mechanical. I then tried to bridge to the leaders. I came very close, but not close enough. I had already used a lot of energy when I was joined by among others Greg Van Avermaet. It was impossible to follow Michal Kwiatkowski. The first part of the race went perfectly. Just before the finale, BMC had raised the pace and I was on their wheel together with some teammates. Then we got to the decisive moment. I had good legs, but not good enough. Wednesday I ride Flèche Wallonne, we will determine our tactics in the next days: attack before Mur de Huy or not.”

Tiesj Benoot: “I didn’t want to wait too long to attack. I turned onto the Kruisberg in second position and got in the front group. Perfect so far, until I touched the rear wheel of Rojas. I got out of balance, had to put my foot on the ground and my chain was dropped. I was immediately caught by the bunch. Unfortunately, Tim couldn’t close the gap on the leaders. It was actually a miracle that I was part of the front group, as I had crashed at one hundred kilometres from the end. I have a lot of abrasions on my left side. I was nauseous for a while, but got better. It’s a pity that I was dropped from the break, because they remained ahead till the finish. A podium or top five might have been possible. The course of the Amstel suits me and that’s hopeful for the future.”

And here's Movistar's report:

A move destined to cover Alejandro Valverde's back ended up bringing him an excellent individual result. José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar Team) gave all he had in the 52nd edition of the Amstel Gold Race - one of the longest (261km), hardest races of the season in the Limburg hills of the Netherlands - and eventually took 5th into a pursuit group just 10" behind Philippe Gilbert (QST, 1st) and Michal Kwiatkowski (SKY, 2nd), the two strongest riders into a race exciting as few others in previous editions of the Ardennes trio.

The decisive split was made at the Kruisberg, 38km from the end. Rojas, together with Ion Izagirre (TBM), successfully bridged back to an elite, six-man group including Henao (SKY), Albasini (ORS), Haas (DDD), Lindeman (TLJ), Gilbert and Benoot (LTS), who would later be dropped from the lead. After several minutes pushing hard at a handful of seconds back, the group containing Alejandro Valverde conceded all chances at the flat immediately following the Keutenberg climb (28km to go), where Kwiatkowski jumped across to make the leaders' group while Van Avermaet (BMC) and 'Bala' followed without success.

"Really struggling", as he said on Twitter after the race, yet with all courage a man can have after coming back in magnificent form following his leg injury in the 2016 Vuelta a España, Spanish road race champion Rojas could barely remain on the wheel of such strong rivals, only managing to take some turns as Kwiatkowski and Gilbert went for glory into the Bemelerberg, 5km from the finish. It was still a more-than-satisfying 5th spot, behind Albasini and Haas, for the man from Murcia, surely happy to get back into supporting duties for his countryman and friend Valverde at next week's Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

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