By the numbers: What it takes to be competitive at the Amstel Gold Race

by Stephen Gallagher


Last Sunday, Philippe Gilbert (QuickStep) rode his way to his second big victory of the spring, beating Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) in a two-up sprint to win his fourth Amstel Gold Race. It was another terrific performance from the resurgent Belgian, not least because he crashed early in the race and suffered a small tear in his kidney.

In the following article, former pro and Dig Deep Coaching co-founder Stephen Gallagher analyses the power data of riders in the 2017 Amstel Gold Race to find out what it takes to be competitive in this hard and hilly one-day Classic.


This article refers to the power outputs and power-to-weight ratios of the pros. To put these into context and see where the pros fit in relation to everyday riders, check out this table from Andy Coggan at the Training Peaks website.

The Amstel Gold Race is held in the ‘mountains’ of Limburg, the southernmost region of the Netherlands. It starts in the city of Maastricht before taking on 35 categorised ascents, for a total of 3,000m of climbing over 260km. One of the characteristics of this race is the small twisting and turning roads which cover the route. For that reason, positioning is key and only those who can maintain a position at the head of affairs and have a solid team around them can fight for a high placing. Splits happen easily and it can be hard to get back to the front if you get caught out.

With climbs of between 500m and 2.5km in length — which take the riders from 45 seconds to 3:30 to complete — the Amstel Gold Race demands repeated VO2-type efforts from those that want to be competitive. More important than just having a high VO2 capability is having an excellent recovery ability from such efforts — generally it can be the wearing down of doing such repetitive efforts that can make or break a race. This is clear to see in the power data we’ve analysed from the 2017 Amstel Gold race.

How it unfolded

The opening kilometres of the Amstel Gold race were predictably aggressive with many riders keen to get a gap and get in the breakaway. On such a twisting and turning circuit it can be of benefit to be off the front, rather that fighting for position in a fast peloton.

The main break of the day was formed after the first 10km of racing. Among those in the group, and one of the main aggressors, was Australian neo-pro Brendan Canty (Cannondale-Drapac). To form the break and be part of this early move Canty produced his peak five-minute power for the day: 398W (6.63 W/kg) with a peak of 957W (15.95 W/kg) during this time. The effort was well worth it as he was able to represent his team in the 12-man break and show his climbing ability in these hilly one-day races.

Canty’s power was matched by fellow break-mate Vincenzo Albanese (Bardiani-CSF) who also produced one of his peak powers in trying to get away: an average of 491W (7.77 W/kg) with a peak of 1202W (18.21 W/kg).

With the leaders working well together, the gap to the peloton extended to eight minutes. We can see that in the first 3 hours and 20 minutes that the riders in the break were expending a lot more energy than those sitting comfortably in the peloton:


Rider Location Normalised power* Power-to-weight
Mads Wurtz Schmidt Breakaway 279W 3.98 W/kg
Dries Devenyns Peloton 233W 3.53 W/kg

The pace was still high at the front as the breakaway riders hit one of the longer climbs of the day: the Drielandenpunt, after 122km of racing. On this 2.3km climb the peloton started to eat into the lead of the break, as can be seen in the comparison of climb times below:


Rider Location Time Normalised power* Power-to-weight
Brendan Canty Breakaway 5:53 304W 5.07 W/kg
Paul Martens Peloton 5:12 352W 5.10 W/kg

As the leading riders hit the last half of the race, their lead was coming down and some of the steepest climbs still remained.

Heading to the final showdown

In the climbs that littered the start of the last half of the race we can see the bunch starting to rein in the leaders. This high pace in the peloton is evident in the data of Australian rider Jay Mccarthy (Bora-hansgrohe) who went on to finish in a very respectable 17th place, only 1:11 down on the eventual winner:


Climb Distance to go Time Power Power-to-weight
Eperheide 124km 3:35 338W 5.2 W/kg
Plettenberg 112km 1:44 392W 6.03W/kg
Eyserweg 110km 4:03 345W 5.31W/kg

The second ascent of the famous Cauberg climb came with only 87km to go and the breakaway had just four minutes on the peloton. The pace was high and placing was crucial for those coming into the Cauberg.

The run into the town of Valkenburg and the Cauberg is fast and not too technical, apart from a 90-degree right-hand turn which requires you to go from 70km/h to 30km/h in the space of 10 seconds, after which you have the steep ascent of the Cauberg to tackle as you jump hard out of the corner to maintain your position in the bunch.

In McCarthy’s descent into Valkenberg with 88km to go we can see he averaged 63km/h and maxed out at 75km/h for the 1.7km descent into the town. Once on the climb he averaged 399W (6.14 W/kg) for the 2:07 it took him to pass over the climb. He had to produce a max of 760W (11.69 W/kg) as he kicked out of the bottom corner, before even starting the main part of the climb. This would have hurt!

This data is similar to that of Brendan Canty in the break. He too punched hard out of the bottom corner at 741W (12.35 W/kg) with an average of 345W (5.75 W/kg) for the 2:15 it took him to climb the Cauberg.

The Final Attacks

With the breakaway finally caught and with seven climbs to go, the Kruisberg climb would prove to be decisive. The run into the hill, with a sharp left-hand turn into a narrow road, meant positioning was everything. The climb didn’t disappoint as it was here that Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) launched a blistering attack that ended up having a big impact on the final placings on the day.

In the 1.5km leading into the Kruisberg, Benoot averaged nearly 400W (5.55 W/kg) and rode at 50km/h on the approach. He dropped to nearly 20km/h as he took the corner into the climb. Benoot’s attack on the climb was extremely impressive when you look at the power and effort produced after 220km of racing. He averaged 651W (9.04 W/kg) for the 1:24 it took him to tackle this 800m ascent. This attack forged a select group of riders that included eventual winner Philippe Gilbert (QuickStep Floors) — the first rider on Benoot’s wheel when he attacked.

One rider who missed the initial move on the climb was Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar). The Spanish champion had to make a big effort over the top to bridge the gap: 430W (6.06 W/kg) for 1.5km and 2:30.

For the next 39km and nearly one hour of racing Rojas was part of a very cohesive break that hovered at between 15 and 45 seconds ahead of a Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)-led chasing group. For this period Jose had an normalised average power of 303W (4.27 W/kg) and averaged 41.3km/h. His power numbers on the climbs of the last 39km are detailed below:


Climb Time Ave Pwr Max Pwr Ave W/kg
Eyserbosweg 2:43 445W 737W 6.27 W/kg
Fromberg 2:12 415W 964W 5.85 W/kg
Keutenberg 3:39 423W 738W 5.96 W/kg
Cauberg 1:52 409W 849W 5.76 W/kg
Geulhemmerberg 2:50 390W 603W 5.49 W/kg
Bemelerberg 1:23 473W 774W 6.66 W/kg

You can see the consistent effort of around 6 W/kg for the 2-3 minutes it took to pass over these last climbs. It took an effort of 6.66 W/kg for Rojas just to stay with the chase group as Gilbert and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) rode away on the Bemelerberg. Over the top of the climb and down to the finishing straight Rojas worked hard to bring back the leading duo, but this was not to be and his group ended up sprinting for third.

Rojas rode at around 300W (4.25 W/kg) for the 3km leading into the sprint before averaging 606W (8.54 W/kg) for his 12-second sprint, maxing out at 805W (11.34 W/kg).

Amstel Gold proved to be an exciting race with Gilbert again proving he is one of the strongest riders of the 2017 season so far. But as the numbers above show, it takes a special rider just to be competitive in this one-day Classic, let alone post a good result.

*To understand what normalised power is and how it differs from average power, this explanation at Training Peaks is worth reading. In short: normalised power “is an attempt to better quantify the physiological ‘cost’ of the harder ‘feel’ of the variable effort.”
 
The graphics in this post appear courtesy of VeloViewer and Philipp Diegner.

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