VALKENBURG, Netherlands – Denmark’s Michael Valgren of Astana won the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, beating Roman Kreuziger in a cat-and-mouse finale after a rolling 263km race from Maastricht.
Italy’s Enrico Gasparotto was third by a few seconds, while pre-race favourites Peter Sagan and Alejandro Valverde came fourth and fifth after being dropped by a lightning break around 1km from the finish.
“The team was counting on me,” said Valgren, who underlined his classics form with a fourth-place finish at the recent Tour of Flanders.
“In the escape I had the help of Jakob Fuglsang, who was so strong, and after all his efforts, I had to win.”
A minute’s silence was observed at the start in memory of Belgian Michael Goolaerts, who died after suffering heart failure during the Paris-Roubaix last Sunday.
The only one of the ‘Ardennes Classics’ to be run on Dutch soil featured 34 small climbs over constantly rolling terrain on narrow country roads.
As expected, an early breakaway formed and the nine front-runners went on to build a lead of over 15 minutes.
A route change made a long-range victory bid more likely on Sunday, the race being stripped of its summit finish.
It took the efforts of Valverde’s Movistar team to reel in the earlier escapees, and that set the stage for a war of nerves between the key remaining contenders.
Valgren, who was second here in 2016, took a back seat while Danish compatriot Fuglsang kept Valverde, Sagan, France’s Julian Alaphilippe and Belgian Tim Wellens on tenterhooks with a series of false breaks.
When Valgrem suddenly accelerated, a tired-looking bunch looked to Sagan to close the gap. But the world champion, crowned king of Paris-Roubaix last week, refused the challenge.
Kreuziger (Mitchelton-Scott) set off in pursuit of Valgren and the pair opened a gap that proved, for the Dane, to be the platform for a clever victory.