• For Australian cycling fans, the 2016 Amstel Gold Race had shades of last year's road world championships about it. (AFP)Source: AFP
Two leaders, almost identical in ability but not in age. And on one team, with one plan at last Sunday's Amstel Gold Race. Two days after the event, Anthony Tan's still trying to work out what that plan was.
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Cycling Central
19 Apr 2016 - 8:09 AM  UPDATED 19 Apr 2016 - 2:01 PM

The Sunday prior they were, finally, in agreeance.

With two race leaders in Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans, Orica GreenEDGE head sports director Matthew White told us that "it doesn't get any better" in terms of the team's chances in pulling off another big one, this time at the Amstel Gold Race.

Attempting to allay any concerns about the pair's inability to work harmoniously - as happened at last year's road world championships in Richmond, Virginia, in full view of a global TV audience - White told AAP: "We have a plan."

"It was at this point one felt that Gerrans, also the designated leader for this Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège, needed to make a call..."

"It's a long and it's a pretty sketchy day. A lot of crashes and position is quite crucial, so we'll split them (Matthews and Gerrans) up during the day. I will talk to them in person on the weekend about what we want them to do in the last couple of kilometres."

For 250 out of the 258 kilometres raced, that Plan, Stan, seemed to be working.

In particular, Luke Durbridge, Matthew Hayman, Michael Albasini and Daryl Impey could not be faulted, only applauded.

Until that milestone, I almost felt like I was watching the 2011 Worlds in Copenhagen, Denmark when the team from Great Britain essentially controlled the race from start to finish, with Mark Cavendish, in his heyday pomp, duly placing the cherry on the cake, much to the chagrin of silver medallist Matthew Goss.

Thirty-five kilometres from the finish, as Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), a three-time race winner, was seen flailing, followed by defending champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) some 10 kilometres later, and then Edvald Boassen Hagen (Dimension Data) after that, the odds were, exponentially, stacking in favour of OGE's two-pronged Plan.

Employing a menacingly-high tempo, OGE's Plan was to dissuade any late moves till the final ascent of the Cauberg. However they could not prevent Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff) taking a flyer inside the final eight kilometres, nor Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), who went went straight past the 2013 champ as if the Czech were riding his home trainer.

Sensing danger, Albasini, OGE's last lieutenant, went from the back to the front for one last gasp effort with four Ks remaining; by the time Wellens began the final 900-metre, seven percent ramp, it was enough to bring his co-leaders, safely ensconced in the first chase group and who had not stuck their nose in the wind all day, back into contention.

"We have a plan."

On the Cauberg and two-and-a-half clicks from the line, and with Wellens neatly mopped up, Matthews and Gerrans were first seen riding side-by-side, though distressingly, looking positively uncommunicative, before the latter slipped behind Bling's wheel.

"We have a plan."

As Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty–Groupe Gobert), the champion of 2012, took flight on the Cauberg's upper slope to force what would be the winning move, only the big Dane, Michael Valgren (Tinkoff), dared - or was able - to go with him.

"We have a plan."

It was at this point one felt that Gerrans, also the designated leader for this Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège, needed to make a call: attempt to bridge or cede his own chances and drive the chase in support of Matthews.

Through want or circumstance, he was in no position to do either.

"We have a plan."

A gapped Matthews had to make a huge effort just to latch onto to wheel of Wellens, who was sitting behind Jan Bakelants (AG2R La Mondiale) and Valgren, before the latter took off in pursuit of Gasparotto.

Ultimately, hesitation and the lack of a concerted chase rather than a lack of firepower saw the win slip away. It was a half-hearted sprint by Matthews who ran fifth behind Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani CSF) and Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie), two guys who he'd comfortably beat on any other day, while Gerrans rolled across in eleventh.

"We have a plan."

Gasparotto wins Amstel Gold Race for Demoitié

Afterwards, White told Cyclingnews "Michael was there when Gasparotto went first". However it's understandable Matthews either hesitated or chose not to go with the Italian on the Cauberg, because last year when he made the effort to take Gilbert's wheel the pair was chased down, the effort stymieing his fast-twitch fibres in the sprint won by Kwiatkowski.

White also said, "It's always hard to get any kind of chase organised when the finish is one and a half kilometres from the top". Surely, then, all the more reason for Gerrans to sacrifice himself in the chase, as opposed to having two go for the win, à la Richmond?

"Every team's got their plan. The two favourites were ourselves and Sky, and between us we controlled 95 percent of the bike race today. But between us our leaders weren't good enough to get the job done."

"We have a plan."

Sorry Whitey, but I'm still trying to work out what that plan was, exactly.

Matthews and Gerrans will likely not ride together again till the Tour de France. This also has implications for the Games in Rio, both from a selection and race day perspective. Time enough to sort out a new plan, or risk a repeat of Richmond - and now Amstel, too.

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