Garmin-Cervélo had a strong chance to put a man on the podium in the Amstel Gold Race in Holland until last year’s runner-up Ryder Hesjedal fell ill during the race with a bad stomach.
Racing under sunny skies and unseasonably warm temperatures, Hesjedal was in ideal position through the first half of the race until he started to suddenly feel ill with about 70km to go in the 32-climb, 258km one-day race over the hills of Holland’s Limburg region.
“Ryder got a bad stomach just at the most decisive part of the race. In a race this demanding and fast, once you’re off a little bit, that’s it,” explained Garmin-Cervélo sport director Johnny Weltz.
“Ryder got a little help from the doctor, but it’s impossible when you’re not at your best in a classic. There’s no coming back when everyone is gunning full-blast like they were today.”
Belgian star Philippe Gilbert successfully defended his win from last year with a winning surge up the final climb on the Cauberg. Spanish rider Joaquim Rodríguez crossed the line second and Simon Gerrans was third to round out the podium.
With Hesjedal struggling, the team tried to play its cards as best as it could. Gilbert won out a of a group of about 15 riders that pulled clear over the day’s penultimate climb and Brazilian Murilo Fischer led Garmin-Cervélo with 28th at 2:20 back.
It was a stroke of bad luck for the Canadian, who rode to a breakthrough podium last year at the Dutch classic and entered the race in great form following his top-10 overall at the Vuelta al País Vasco last week.
“Amstel Gold is ideal for Ryder and we built the team around him today. The way the race was unfolding was perfect for us. An early break pulled clear and the pace was very high. I think everyone was saving their bullets for the finale because it was impossible to attack with the speed so high,” Weltz said.
“That scenario is perfect for Ryder, because he knows this race and he’s in great condition. Under normal conditions, the podium would have been possible again today. It’s too bad for Ryder, but sometimes that happens in racing. These guys are like race horses. One little thing and it can throw them off, but he will bounce back.”
Weltz said there were no other injuries or mishaps during the usually very nervous Amstel Gold. Despite Hesjedal’s bad luck, Weltz said the team is optimistic for the upcoming Ardennes classics. Up next is Flèche Wallonne on April 20 and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 24.
“The group is feeling very good going into the Ardennes. Everyone is motivated and in good shape. The victory at Paris-Roubaix lifts everyone’s ambitions for these big races,” Weltz said.
“We had a good day today, because we had no one on the ground. This race usually sees a lot of crashes, but it was extremely fast today, and I think that almost helped because it made it simpler. There wasn’t a lot of stopping and starting. It was very hot, almost like summer, but we had people on the climbs with water bottles and we had extras in the car, so we were prepared.”
More photos from Amstel Gold: