|Mike Kwiatkowski, Philippe Gilbert and Michael Albasini on the 2017 Amstel Gold Podium ( Bettini Photo)|
Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) made history Sunday when he took his fourth win at the Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands, winning a two-up sprint with Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) to notch his fourth victory in the first round of the Ardennes Classics while climbing to second on the race's all-time win list behind Dutchman Jan Raas.
Although he hit the deck about halfway though the 261km race, Gilbert, who also won the race in 2010, 2011 and 2014, initiated the winning move about 40km from the finish after the peloton reeled in the early breakaway. He then joined Kwiatkowski in a move on the final climb of the day, sticking the move to the line with the Pole and then blowing past after Kwiatkowski led from too far out. Gilbert is now only the third rider in history to win the Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold Race in the same season.
"He surprised me a little bit in the sprint, but knowing there was a headwind, I remained calm and got closer and closer," Gilbert said.
There had been considerable discussion leading up to the race about how course changes would affect the finale, with the mighty Cauberg climb coming 16km from the finish this year. Although some had speculated that the changes would lead to a bunch sprint, the new formulation seemed to embolden opportunists like Gilbert and his fellow late escapees, including Kwiatkowski, Michael Albasini (Orica-Scott), Nathan Haas (Dimension Data), Jose Rojas (Movistar), Sergio Henao(Team Sky) and Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida).
“We went early, on the Kruisberg, and we worked really well together," Gilbert said. "All the guys deserved to win, because they did a great job helping the group go. On Bemelerberg, I could see everyone was as their limit, but I attacked and got a gap with Kwiatkowski."
In the finale, Kwiatkowski forced Gilbert into the lead and then lingered about a bike length behind as they approached the final 500 metres. The Pole jumped viciously as he swung to his right, but Gilbert was quickly on him and moving past, eventually taking his third win of 2017 after Tour of Flander and Three Days of de Panne.
“Today’s race was hard and we rode aggressively, but this is my favourite way of racing," Gilbert said. "I’m not scared of this and I’m very happy of how things panned out. It was a perfect day. My goal every season is to win a Classic. Now it is already two and this is maybe for the years I didn’t win one."