As usual, the Amstel Gold Race launched the Ardennes Classics campaign on Sunday. In a 2021 edition that proved a bit less difficult, the three Groupama-FDJ’s leaders got to the home stretch in a small peloton fighting for fourth place. Eventually, Rudy Molard got the best position on the line (23rd). They’re now heading towards the Flèche Wallonne, which might be more suitable for the team.

“There was not much we could do”, Franck Pineau

Given the sanitary restrictions, the Amstel Gold Race was this year contested on a circuit around Valkenburg. Only three hills were on the riders’ menu, but they had to be crossed on multiple occasions: thirteen to be precise, with the exception of the mythical Cauberg that was not featuring in the last lap. In the very first lap, however, ten men quickly made it into the day’s breakaway: Edward Theuns, Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo), Stan Dewulf (AG2R-Citroën), Sébastien Grignard (Lotto -Soudal), Maurits Lammertink, Loic Vliegen (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert), Chad Haga (Team DSM), Ryan Gibbons (UAE Team Emirates), Kenny Molly (Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles) and Anders Skaarseth (UnoX). The peloton let them take a 5-minute lead at best before taking control, and the scenario then remained quite stable for almost 150 kilometers. “It was not the most thrilling race”, confessed Franck Pineau. “Ten guys spent all day in front and in the bunch, we would just lose riders from the back lap after lap.” During the first three quarters of racing, Rudy Molard, David Gaudu and Valentin Madouas could count on their teammates William Bonnet, Matthieu Ladagnous, Fabian Lienhard and Romain Seigle to protect and position them. “It was pretty nervous all day,” Rudy confirmed.

The first attacks within the peloton finally came with about four laps to go, but they did not prove successful. “Tactically, there was not much we could do”, said Franck Pineau. “It was just a WorldTour type of race. There were small attacks but they were not going away”. With about forty kilometers to go, David Gaudu tried to enter some moves as well, but the turning point only came on the last time up to the Cauberg, 17 kilometres from the line. The climb first made some small gaps, and a bit later, a Schachmann-Pidcock-Van Aert trio managed to go away. “It came down to the legs in the Cauberg, and we could not follow the best ones, who went to fight for victory,” explained Rudy. The three Groupama-FDJ’s leaders still found themselves in a bunch of around thirty riders a dozen of seconds behind. However, the leading group was never caught and Van Aert took the win as a large group fought for the remaining places. In the sprint, Franck Pineau’s men were unable to compete for the best positions. “Our three guys were there to play 4th, but the sprint was a bit complicated,” explained the sports director. “They are not real sprinters … I am left a bit disappointed, because we see that they have potential, but we don’t have a convincing result to show for it. It was a demanding circuit, but not too much. We certainly don’t have a bunch of 100 on the line, but there are still almost forty guys in the same time”.

“They did not come short, physically speaking”, Franck Pineau

Best rider on the line (23rd), Rudy Molard added: “We thought we could be a step ahead on this circuit, but it was not that easy. Seeing a large group fighting for 4th is proof that it was difficult to make gaps today. It’s still a good race for the future and it will help us for Wednesday and Sunday”. “David made some good effort, he get the engine started again today,” said Franck. “We often saw him in front or pulling for his mates. He’s up there and it’s going to get better. It was also only the second returning race for Rudy. From that point of view, it’s also not bad to see him in the final today. Valentin was also there. They did not come short, physically speaking, and we will certainly be better off next week. It may suit us better”. Next stop: La Flèche Wallonne, in three days.

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