With an early move bound to happen in the Amstel Gold Race, Australian Brendan Canty was given the task of getting in there.
“For my first Classic in the Ardennes I was pretty excited and nervous at the same time,” said Canty. “I had a job to do today and that was to get in the break, so I’m very happy I managed that. I guess I’ll sleep tonight feeling pretty happy.”
The start of the race unfolded according to plan, but when team leader Alberto Bettiol abandoned the Amstel Gold Race with stomach problems, ambitions for the first of the Ardennes classics had to be reset as Cannondale-Drapac shifted focus.
“The guys were in the right place when they needed to be,” sport director Tom Southam said. “But they didn’t quite have the legs to go along with the decisive move. And from there we were sort of like on the back foot. The guys we have, Sebastian [Langeveld] and Dylan [van Baarle] have great form, but this race is never going to suit them very well. We need to be realistic about that.”
“The best guys were at the front,” added Tom-Jelte Slagter. “The pace of the Kruisberg was really high. We were all perfectly positioned on the Eyserbosweg, but me personally, I was still recovering from the Kruisberg climb. We tried really hard to close the gap. You always try, but the gap was over a minute, so it was going to be very difficult. I suffered.”
“To catch those six leaders would have been very hard, even if we had had another 50 kilometers,” noted Southam. “The guys were all on a good level. We just didn’t have that guy to finish it off.”
The unraveling began as the last of the early leaders was caught and a group of six riders counter-attacked. From this lead group, former world road champions, both previous Amstel Gold winners, Philippe Gilbert and Michal Kwiatkowski attacked on the last climb, the Bemelerberg. In the two-up sprint, Gilbert took his fourth win of the season.
The new finish provided the fireworks the organisation was looking for, so Slagter concluded: “I think the organisation is really pleased with this new course.”
Cannondale-Drapac starts off the Ardennes week with two top 25 finishers, seeing Sebastian Langeveld finish 21st and Alex Howes 25th.