Valkenburg - World champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland claimed his first one-day
victory of the year in winning the first of three Ardennes Classics, the
Amstel Gold Race on Sunday.
Kwiatkowski finished the 258km race
from Maastricht to Valkenburg ahead of Alejandro Valverde of Spain and
Australia's Michael Matthews.
It was the 24-year-old's first win
in a major Spring Classic race, this the first of three Ardennes
Classics in the space of a single week.
His only previous victory this year had been in the Paris-Nice stage race prologue.
was also a welcome boost for his Etixx-Quick Step team that had endured
a frustrating Spring so far with second-placed finishes at
Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, E3 Harelbeke and
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, although Mark Cavendish had won
Kwiatkowski said he was really struggling towards the end but team-mate Gianni Meersman had convinced him everyone else was too.
gave me a lot of motivation before the last time up the Cauberg. I'm
really thankful they (his team) believed in me until the last moment,"
said the Pole.
"In cycling you never know what to expect from
those around you. You might look around and feel like no-one is
suffering, but you don't know the true situation until the last
important acceleration. "
Kwiatkowski was fifth at Amstel, the
biggest race in the Netherlands, last year, also securing third-placed
finishes at both Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
He was part of a small group that broke clear on the final Cauberg climb, the apex of which came 1.8km from the finish.
Rui Costa, whom Kwiatkowski succeeded as world champion, came fourth
ahead of Belgium's Greg Van Avermaet and Tony Gallopin of France, while
last year's winner Philippe Gilbert, a three-time Amstel champion, could
manage only 10th.
"For the sprint I was able to sit in the
slipstream and breathe a little bit, and that was important to recover
from the effort on the Cauberg," added Kwiatkowski.
"I was able to get some energy back to go full gas in the select group sprint and win."
finishing fourth last year and second in 2013, Valverde was happy with
his finish but said he thinks Liege-Bastogne-Liege will provide his best
chance of an Ardennes victory.
"For me, Liege is the race out of
the three where I think I stand more chances, the one that suits me
best, but of course we mustn't rule anything out for Wednesday
(Fleche)," said the Spanish Movistar leader.
Australian team Orica GreenEdge's sprinter Matthews was also satisfied.
my first time attempting the final at Amstel, I have to be happy with
the result," he said. "I'm happy with the way I rode, I left everything
out there. It's just unfortunate that it wasn't for the victory."
year's Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali created some excitement
30km from home when he broke away with three-time world timetrial king
Tony Martin and Australians Simon Clarke and David Tanner.
They were caught with 15km left, although Clarke battled on for a further 7km before the inevitable happened.
Gilbert, who won all three Ardennes Classics in 2011, briefly distanced
all but Matthews on the Cauberg climb but although the pair crested it
clear, a small group caught them in the run-in to the finish.
and Van Avermaet, whose build-up had been blighted by his implication
in a doping scandal and the disappointment of third-placed finishes at
both 'Monument' cobbled classics - Paris Roubaix and the Tour of
Flanders - opened their sprints first but Kwiatkowski powered through
to take the win.
Leading results from the Amstel Gold Race, a 258km ride from Maastricht to Valkenburg, on Sunday:
1. Michal Kwiatkowski (POL/ETI) 6hr 31min 49sec, 2. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) same time, 3. Michael Matthews (AUS/ORI) s.t., 4. Rui Costa (POR/LAM) s.t., 5. Greg Van Avermaet (BEL/BMC) s.t., 6. Tony Gallopin (FRA/LOT) s.t., 7. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA/ETI) s.t., 8. Enrico Gasparotto (ITA/WGG) s.t., 9. Maciej Paterski (POL/CCC) s.t., 10. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/BMC) s.t., 11. Daniel Moreno (ESP/KAT) s.t., 12. Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA/ALM) s.t., 13. Giampaolo Caruso (ITA/KAT) s.t., 14. Roman Kreuziger (CZE/TIN) s.t., 15. Daniel Martin (IRL/CAN) s.t., 16. Lars Petter Nordhaug (NOR/SKY) s.t., 17. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/AST) s.t., 18. Ben Hermans (BEL/NMC) at 03sec, 19. Tim Wellens (BEL/LOT) 18, 20. Kristian Sbaragli (ITA/MTN) 18