VALKENBURG, Netherlands (Reuters) - World champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland outgunned the favorites to win the Amstel Gold Race, a 258km hilly one-day classic race, on Sunday.
The Etixx-Quick Step rider ended up in a select group at the top of the Cauberg, the last of 34 climbs, to contest the win in a reduced sprint.
He beat Spain’s Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), one of the specialists of the Ardennes classics, which continue on Wednesday with La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege next Sunday in Belgium.
Australian Michael Matthews (Orica Green-EDGE), widely tipped to win should the race be decided in a sprint, took third place.
“The Amstel was my objective. I managed to keep a bit of energy for the final sprint,” said Kwiatkowski, whose only previous win this season came in the prologue of the Paris-Nice stage race last month.
It was sweet revenge for classics specialist team Etixx-Quick Step who failed to win in the Flanders classics earlier this month.
“Even without (injured) Tom Boonen, we are the best team in the world,” said team manager Patrick Lefevere.
Hot favorite and defending champion Philippe Gilbert, who won the Amstel Gold Race in 2010, 2011 and 2014, attacked as expected in the Cauberg, a 1.2km climb at an average gradient of 5.8 percent.
But he could not drop Matthews and a dozen others made the junction at the top to contest the final sprint of an otherwise rather dull race.
Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali tried to shake things up with 28 km left from a group of five late escapees but German Tony Martin refused to collaborate.
Kwiatkowski then timed it right to become the first world champion to win the Amstel Gold Race since Frenchman Bernard Hinault in 1981.
Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris