A late solo attack earned Roman Kreuziger a surprise victory in the Amstel Gold Race when the Czech finished 22 seconds ahead of Spain’s Alejandro Valverde and Australian Simon Gerrans.
Having bridged across to a break of seven riders, the Saxo-Tinkoff rider took off 7km from the line for the first major Classic win of his career.
Belgian Philippe Gilbert, who won the world championship last year on a course that took in the Amstel Gold Race’s final Cauberg climb, shattered the chasing peloton on the incline, but with Kreuziger already out of reach, Valverde and Gerrans then overtook him for the podium spots.
Kreuziger, who was fifth in 2010 and fourth in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2011, told reporters: “I think the only people with doubts about me were journalists, not me.”
“This team has always trusted me and today proves they were right to do so,” he said. “Having said that, I only really believed it was possible for me to win in the final 500m. In a race like this one, in the first 150km, you can never be sure what will happen, even if you feel very good.”
Favorite Peter Sagan of Slovakia faded in the last hour and finished 36th.
“My legs were cramping up, I tried to follow Gilbert when he counterattacked, but it wasn’t possible,” the Cannondale rider said.
Gilbert had crashed about 90km from the finish and so was pleased with his race.
“It was very special to be able to go up the Cauberg wearing the rainbow jersey [of world champion]. I’m feeling stronger every day and that’s something that motivates me for the upcoming races,” the Belgian told reporters as he sat on the stairs of his team bus.
Other crash victims included France’s Thomas Voeckler and Spain’s top Classics rider Joaquim Rodriguez.
The Amstel Gold Race is the first of three one-day races known as the Ardennes Classics. The next is La Fleche Wallone in Belgium tomorrow.