Michael Gogl, 23, demonstrated his proclivity for the Ardennes Classics with a convincing performance in Amstel Gold Race Sunday that saw him hold off the peloton for eighth place after he attacked in the closing kilometers.
When a power-packed seven-man chase group that included Fabio Felline could not close to a dangerous breakaway containing Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), Trek-Segafredo aimed to at least secure a top-10 result and not leave the Dutch Classic empty handed.
After the peloton caught back the chasers, a group that also included Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Gogl - who had earlier attacked to try and close the gap when the break initially escaped - set off with five kilometers remaining.
There was no hope of catching back the leaders who had more than a minute's advantage, but it was a chance for the young Austrian with a knack and strong affection for the Ardennes to strut his stuff - and show he has a promising future in the hilly Classics.
"It was a hard race all day," said Gogl. "The pressure was on already from a long way out. Fabio and me were in the action in the final, he was in a good move, but unfortunately, they couldn't catch the front group, and when we caught up to Fabio again, I made the attack with five kilometers to go and held it for 8th place.
"We missed the move on the Kruisberg, and it was the only solution to close it down immediately, and that's what we tried," continued Gogl about his attack to try and shut down the winning breakaway. "Unfortunately, it was impossible as there were different interests from different teams. Then, in the end, we made the best out of what was still possible."
While eighth is far from the podium, a top-10 at a prestigious classic of 258 kilometers jammed with 35 climbs is still something, and for a gifted young talent, a big boost in confidence to build upon.
"I like the Ardennes, and for sure it is a super nice result for myself," gushed Gogl. "I prepared really hard the last three weeks for this and my strong legs today show that I am in the right way for the next two races and the future as well."
While Gogl flaunted the team's future, Felline brushed aside painful memories from a year ago and was in the final action with the big hitters. Racing in cycling is never a cut and dried affair – when Gilbert first flexed his muscles on the Kruisberg with over 35 kilometers to race many big favorites were caught out.
"Today was really strange to come back here because of my memory of my crash last year was fresh," explained Felline. "It was not easy, a lot of things came back that I had forgotten, but when I started to race my feelings changed: I raced like always and gave the maximum."
Felline joined a chasing group chock-full of firepower that gave pursuit for over 20 kilometers, but despite their efforts, the gap would grow to 45 seconds with seven kilometers remaining, and the win would come from the leading seven. Van Avermaet, Valverde and Felline, amongst others, were left with no chance at the podium.
"We missed the breakaway, and even with Van Avermaet and Valverde it was impossible to come back," said a disappointed Felline. "I am happy about my condition, happy about my legs, but like always, what is important are the results. With my legs, for sure I can do more, and until now I have nothing, I don't have what I want or expect. So, I am not really happy about this. But I am happy about the team, about Michael who did great work and good action in the finale to take 8th place."
Gilbert won a two-up sprint for the win as the remaining breakaway riders sprinted for the final podium step moments later. Then came Gogl. He crossed the line ahead of the peloton just over a minute behind Gilbert for eighth. A small result but a big omen.