PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
After a disappointing 2004, Danilo Di Luca had promised himself that this year would be a year of making up for lost time, and in only 10 days he has managed to more than fulfil that promise, writes Susanne Horsdal.
Going in to the Amstel Gold Race fresh from taking overall victory at the Tour of the Basque Country, Di Luca was obviously one of the favourites, and last year's fourth place finisher didn't miss this time. When a group of about 30 riders came out of the pea soup thick mist that prevented television from showing any live pictures from the race and took on the final climb of the Cauberg to decide the Dutch spring Classic, Di Luca cleverly found the wheel of home favourite Michael Boogerd, and then overtook the Rabobank rider about 100 metres from the finish line.
"This is a big moment for me and a big victory, but I actually like Lige-Bastogne-Lige better," said the happy Liquigas rider, whose next objective is La Doyenne next Sunday. "I'll ride in Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday, and to win all of the three races over a period of years may be possible, but to do a Rebellin is impossible," said the 29-year-old Italian in reference to the Gerolsteiner rider's triple last season.
His last really big win in a one-day race dates back to 2001 when he was victorious in the Tour of Lombardy, but who knows how far his form will take him this season.
For Michael Boogerd the 40th edition of the Dutch race turned out to be yet another 'close but no cigar' experience. Despite having felt insecure about his form leading up to the race, the Rabobank rider sat where he was supposed to all day long but had to settle with finishing runner up for the fourth time in all and the third year in a row.
"Like last year it's a big disappointment, except this year I was stronger," said Boogerd, who explained that he had been riding for Oscar Freire up the Cauberg. "From a team point of view it was only natural that I should ride for Freire, because he's faster than me, but with about 300 metres to go I got the feeling that Freire wasn't on my wheel anymore and at that point it was too late to do anything different," explained Boogerd. With Freire finishing 10th in the same time as Di Luca, that situation is likely to make more than interesting dinner conversation among the Rabobank team tonight.
The better part of the race was marked by a four-man breakaway comprising Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole), Erwin Thijs (MrBookmaker.com), Andrei Grivko (Domina Vacanze) and Alain van Katwijk (Shimano). After about 180 kilometres Grivko and Van Katwijk were dropped and 25 kilometres from the finish they were replaced by Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile) and Leon van Bon (Davitamon-Lotto).
On the Kruisberg, the 27th of the 31 hills, Moreau, Thijs and Van Bon were replaced at the front by Karsten Kroon (Rabobank), Marc Lotz (Quick Step) and David Etxebarria (Liberty Seguros), but it was all to no avail.
At this point the finer details of the race were mostly lost to the TV audience, as the thick cloud stubbornly hanging over Limburg province took a hold. But even the fog could not deny Di Luca his moment in the sun, although Rabobank may well wish it had.
"It was a strange race because the poor conditions meant that a large group stayed together right to the finish when usually there is a much bigger selection," said Di Luca. "300 metres from the line Boogerd made a move and I countered and went past him and 30 metres from the line I already knew I had won."
After what he admitted was the worst season of his career last year, Di Luca, known as 'Killer' in his Liquigas-Bianchi team, now feels this year could be his best. "I came out of the Tour of the Basque Country in great condition, I rode a time trial there which was probably my best since my amateur days. From here I'm looking very much towards Lige next weekend, and I know I will be able to depend on a very strong team there. Winning that race is my dream, and I think it suits my characteristics perfectly."
1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 251km in 6.21.07 (39.51kph)
2 Michael Boogerd (Hol) Rabobank
3 Mirko Celestino (Ita) Domina Vacanze
4 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
5 Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Spa) Phonak
6 Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) Quick Step
7 Bjorn Leukemans (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto
8 David Etxebarria (Spa) Liberty Seguros
9 Jrome Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom
10 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
11 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Fassa Bortolo
12 Igor Astarloa (Spa) Barloworld 0.10
13 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Illes Balears
14 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) CSC
15 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Shimano-Memory Corp
16 Constantino Zaballa (Spa) Saunier Duval
17 Johan Coenen (Bel) MrBookmaker.com
19 Pieter Mertens (Bel) Chocolade Jacques
20 Manuele Mori (Ita) Saunier Duval