The last time Enrico Gasparotto won Amstel Gold, back in 2012, his victory was met with a chorus of boos. His Astana team was, for a change, the peloton's favourite heel and he had just out-sprinted Peter Sagan for the win. This year, riding for Wanty-Groupe Gobert, the Italian was greeted with an outpouring of good will. The win was not only Wanty's first of the season, but their first ever World Tour win and Gasparotto was swift to dedicate it to Antoine Demoitie, his young team mate who died after a collision with a following motorbike at Gent-Wevelgem.
The peloton rolled out of Maastricht under a sunny sky, but conditions were variable through the day with short, heavy bursts of rain soaking the riders intermittently. The days early break was formed after 35km and saw Laurens De Vreese (Astana), Tom Devriendt (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Laurent Didier (Trek), Alex Howes (Cannondale), Mateto Montaguti (AG2R), Matteo Bono (Lampre), Kevin Reza (FDJ), Larry Warbasse (IAM), Josef Cerny (CCC) , Fabian Grellier (Direct Energy) and Giacomo Berlato (Nippo). With none of the main contenders teams represented, the race settled down and the group saw their lead extend to as much as five minutes.
In the interim between the escape and the chase really ramping up, the main talking points were Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) seeing his run of bad luck continuing with an abandon due to illness and Trek-Segafredo rider Fabio Felline suffering a bizarre crash when he hit a pothole whilst adjusting his front brake.
The race situation would hold steady over the first wave of climbs, with the break's lead being cut down to roughly three minutes. So far, so Amstel.
With 65 km left to race, a counter attack formed from the peloton featuring several classy riders. Tosh Van De Sande (Lotto-Soudal), Ettix- Quick Step's all-purpose hardman Gianni Meersman, Bjorn Thurau of Bora-Argon 18 and Niccolo Bonifazio of Trek-Segafredo, playing watchdog for his man up the road. Andrei Grivko realised he'd missed the boat and set out in pursuit of the four alone, but he was closely watched by the peloton now being marshaled by Sky and BMC.
With 45km to go, the remnants of the original group of eleven still held a 1:10 advantage over the chasing four who themselves had around a minute over the peloton. Over one of the races succession of short, steep climbs, the group split with Laurent Didier looking like he was about to keel over sideways as Alex Howes and Matteo Bono forced the pace to keep themselves ahead of the chasers. In the end, however, it was the chasing group that would surrender first. Caught by the peloton at the foot of the Keutenberg. Van De Sande tried to latch on to the back of an attack by Orica-Green Edge's Michael Albasini, but Sky reeled in the pair as they and now Orica and BMC set about forcing the selections with two climbs of the Cauberg and about 35km to ride.
The next 15km saw some fascinating shadow boxing within the peloton, first Larry Warbasse tried to escape the breakaway by himself but was swiftly shut down. Albasini again attempted to coax some of the other favourite's teams to take up some slack and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Julien Alaphilippe (Ettix-Quick Step) lurked with three teammates each just behind the Orica train.
Roman Kreuziger (Astana) was the first rider to break the deadlock, attempting a solo attack with 7km to go. Lotto-Soudal's Tim Wellens looked like he was bridging across, but went straight around Kreuziger and quickly time trialled his way to an 18s lead which he held to the foot of the Cauberg with just over 3km to go. Interestingly, Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto-Jumbo) was the only rider to mount a serious attempt to get on terms with Wellens.
As we all know, this is where the real race starts at Amstel Gold. First to fire in pursuit of the Belgian was Enrico Gasparotto, who was quickly joined by Tinkoff's Michael Valgren. The Italian had a slight gap over the crest of the climb but the Dane was back in the wheel on the 1.6km long run in to the line. Behind, Matthews (Orica-Green Edge), Samuel Sanchez (BMC) and a group of around 15 others waited and waited for each other to take the initiative and close the gap but all were more interested in racing not to lose rather than risking trying to overhaul the pair to win. Up front, Gasparotto let the bigger man open up the sprint and then nipped around him for the win. Blowing kisses and pointing to the sky as he celebrated, the first words he spoke to the microphones shoved under his nose were "I rode for Antoine Demoitie."
In the TV interview afterwards, Gasparotto spoke of the whole team riding with an angel on their shoulder. He was at pains to point that this is a blessing the team would rather be without. He also spoke warmly of the family atmosphere within the team.