Amstel Gold Race - 28th April 2002 -254,4 km
Following last week's perfect weather, the purist fans, though not necessarily the riders, would have been pleased that today's race started in more typical cold, windy and rainy conditions. Following last years foot and mouth out-break the organisers had designed this year's typical maze-like route entirely in Holland with no crossings of the border into Belgium. They had done their job well; the 254.4 km course is probably the toughest ever, and included 33 named climbs. It was clearly going to be a hard day in the saddle, and in the wet conditions, potentially dangerous.
Indeed, it was a crash involving Rebellin after 30 km which gave the opportunity for the first real action of the day when 6 riders broke clear. Stefan Kupfernagel (Phonak), Bram Schmitz (Bankgiroloterij), Bram De Groot (Rabobank), Thorsten Rund (Coast), Thierry De Groote (Palmans-Collstrop), and Bjørner Vestøl (EDS-Fakta) set off down the road to lead the race. Poor ol’ Rebellin had a bad wheel change and after attempting to get back onto the peloton eventually retired with an injured knee after around 80 kilometres.
The six leaders' advantage over a sleepy peloton grew to over 7 minutes, but the effort did start to take its toll, but with around 145 km to go the succession of hills claimed its first victims when Rund and Vestøl dropped off the break.
The escapees still with a lead of over five minutes and less with than 100 kilometres to go, and it was then that the master of race tactics, Fassa Bortolo DS Giancarlo Feretti launched his team into action to surprise the still lethargic peloton. Petacchi launched a massive attack which only Kristensen (Fakta) was quick enough to cover. The duo quickly gained around two and a half minutes on the peloton and with the race distance rapidly shortenening it became clear that someone had to pick the chase up or the escapees might well and truly escape. A strong looking Armstrong went to the front of the peloton and before long it was the Postal Team who were driving the chase along. The Fassa Bortolo boys, their man out in front must have been thankful for the tow.
The Postal work had its effect, and with 40 kilometres remaining the only surviving escapees were De Groot and Schmitz. As the peloton neared the top of the Eyserbosweg former race winner Boogerd launched a massive attack over the top of the climb. Bartoli, Ivanov, and Armstrong were the only riders either quick enough or fresh enough to follow the move. The four mens' gap quickly opened on a shell shocked peloton. The race winning move had been made.
Boogerd tried initially to sap the legs of his fellow escapees, but his move was probably too soon in the break, particulary with the Fassa duo having the numerical advantage. As the race sped towards the finish a pattern emerged: Ivanov would attack and Armstrong would chase down. Bartoli would attack and Armstrong would chase down. On the last climb with 8 kilometres to go Armstrong launched his own attack up the, St-Antoniusbank. Ivanov pulled him back (just) and from that point it looked certain to end in a sprint.
Ivanov was in superb form for his captain constantly attacking and as the race approached the finish he set up the sprint for Bartoli with almost text book precision. The Fassa boys took first and second places, while Armstrong was denied a podium place by a "tired"Boogerd.
There were tears of joy for Bartoli, who was naturally full of praise for Ivanov; but also for his Directeur Sportif, Giancarlo Feretti, who had organised the attacks and counter attacks from the team car like a chess master.
As for Armstrong, he still wants to win this race: "Don’t worry - I’ll be back."
1 Michele Bartoli (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 6.49.17 (37.37 km/h)
2 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Fassa Bortolo
3 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank
4 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal Service
5 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Mapei-Quick Step 0.52
6 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Lotto-Adecco
7 Jo Planckaert (Bel) Cofidis
8 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step
9 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Telekom
10 Nico Mattan (Bel) Cofidis
11 Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe) EDS-fakta
12 Marc Lotz (Ned) Rabobank
13 Geert Verheyen (Bel) Rabobank
14 Igor Astarloa (Spa) Saeco-Longoni Sport
15 Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) Tacconi Sport-Vini Caldirola
16 Cristian Moreni (Ita) Alessio
17 Bram Schmitz (Ned) Bankgiroloterij-Batavus
18 Daniele Nardello (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step
19 Christophe Brandt (Bel) Lotto-Adecco
20 Rolf Huser (Swi) Team Coast