Ben Hermans continues to show his strength, intelligence and overall ability in the one-day classics coming in 8th today in a field of quality riders in the Amstel Gold Race, right on the heels of his 12th place in Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl, just four days ago. For most of the day Ben was seen riding in the front group, with no overreaction to the numerous attacks and tests by other riders, staying tucked into the peloton when, less knowledgeable riders made ill conceived jumps, moves to the outside, or strength zapping turns at the front to counter slight gaps that didn’t have a chance. He made his presence felt, upfront, all day, with the sport’s biggest names.
It sounds really simple and easy to ride inside the pack, conserve as much energy as possible and stay out of trouble doesn’t’ it? Thing is, everyone else is trying to do the exact same thing, juking and jostling others around to command better position for all 258 kilometers (160 miles) of this race. On cobbles, uneven pavement, sidewalks, over curbs, around tight turns and round-abouts, getting tense cause break riders are moving farther and farther away. It takes guts, patience, confidence and bike handling agility to know what you’re capable of, and then pull it off. When you’re on an enclosed route that’s at times one car wide, and you have 200 riders bunched tightly enough to read the brand name on each other’s sunglasses, AND your traveling 50 kmh with little or – wait, strike that – no room for error, you have to stay calm, and yet be aggressive. It’s a uniquely odd combination of responses that few but the best can muster. Ben looks like he belongs here.
Team RadioShack stayed off camera most of the day, riding quietly cool and confident in the pack, in the draft and out of trouble, tucked behind the rider in front waiting for their chance. Several crashes, bike changes and punctures occurred, but nothing adversely affecting The Shack. They were well managed, and did an excellent job.
Now the weather report from Valkenburg, Netherlands, at the finish line of the Amstel Gold Race today, could be summed up something like this; winds? – Nonexistent. Sun? – plenty. Temperatures? – Just about perfect! As a result, the crowds were thick along the course, particularly on the final climb to the finish line, up the Cauberg – you had to be 6-foot-5 if you wanted an unobstructed view. This town goes crazy for the AGR and when you pour in about 15,000 or so visitors, there’s no parking for at least a kilometer, pushing and shoving on the sidewalk is the norm, and the wait to get an Amstel Beer, is about… 1-1/2 seconds! How do they do that! Evidently when your name’s on the banners lining the streets for umpteen years, you’ve figured out how to deliver the product. The Cafes, the restaurants, the hospitality, it really is a wonderful city and should be on anyone’s list of places to go in the Netherlands.
But, back to the race, this ramp to the finish line averages a grade of about 12%, really unpleasant, but no big deal, even for many amateurs because it’s only about 800 meters long. But the race-route goes through it 3 times, along with 28 other similar climbs, and remember, the last time through to the finish, the competitors have clocked 258 kilometers on their legs at high speeds. Only the strong survive.
The peloton averaged 46 kmh for the first hour today, no doubt to attempt to minimize breaks. As is often the case, that strategy worked only so long. Almost right after the hour mark a break of 4 riders got ahead; Liquigas-Cannondale’s Simone Ponzi (ITA), Farnesi Vini-Neri Sottoli’s Pier Paolo De Negri, (ITA), Skil-Shimano’s Albert Timmer (NED), and Veranda’s Willems-Accent’s Thomas Degand (BEL). They stayed out front for quite some time, at one point allowed a gap of 11:30. The peloton, at the time lead by Rabobank, started closing in though, and the break, amping their speed broke a couple of riders with Degand and De Negri riding away. Not long after, 2 more riders caught them; Rabobank’s Carlos Barredo (ESP) and HTC-Highroad’s Jan Ghyselinck (BEL). This new pack of four enjoyed some time at the front, but was eventually caught by all the big named teams wanting their classics riders to have a shot.
At 30 kms from the finish, the still tightly packed peloton split quickly when a road island popped up with an unmovable object (a road sign) securely cemented into the curb. A Liquigas rider couldn’t see it in time to steer clear and hit it hard and was down and out. Then, still tightly packed, Frank Schleck went down and took Fabian Cancellara with him. They got up and would make contact with the peloton again, but would not be a factor after that. The one Leopard-Trek rider that looked like he came here to be a factor was, surprisingly, Andy. He jumped with a serious dig toward the finish, but simply couldn’t hold off the charging group behind which was led by last year’s winner Omega-Lotto’s Philippe Gilbert (BEL).
Ben was 18 seconds back, finishing ahead of names like, Gesink, Martens, both Schlecks, Cunego, Chavanel, Vinokourov, Van Den Broeck, Tankink, Nuyens, Ivanov, Di Luca, Cancellara, Luis Leon Sanchez, and Devolder. Not bad company to be in, considering that five of those guys have won this race before.
Results Amstel Gold Race 2011
1 Philippe Gilbert (BEL) Omega Pharma-Lotto 6:30:44
2 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (ESP) Katusha Team +02
3 Simon Gerrans (AUS) Sky Procycling +04
4 Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) Leopard Trek +05
5 Alexandr Kolobnev (RUS) Katusha Team +05
6 Oscar Freire Gomez (ESP) Rabobank Cycling Team +05
7 Björn Leukemans (BEL) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team +07
8 Ben Hermans (BEL) Team RadioShack +18
9 Robert Gesink (NED) Rabobank Cycling Team +19
10 Paul Martens (GER) Rabobank Cycling Team +26
By George Hurst, staff writer