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The cobbled classics are done and it’s time now for the Ardennes Classics, starting with the Amstel Gold Race this Sunday. Ahead of this Dutch one-day race, we bring you up to speed on all you need to know about both the men’s WorldTour event and the Women’s WorldTour event.
Amstel Gold is raced in the Dutch province of Limburg.
While most of The Netherlands is flat, Limburg certainly isn’t. This southern tip of the country, which borders Belgium to the west and Germany to the east, has plenty of hills. Hills that are perfect for bike racing.
The race is named after a beer brand.
Amstel Gold Race is not named after the Amstel River, which runs through Amsterdam, but rather, for its title sponsor – the Amstel beer brand and brewery.
The race serves as an opportunity for the company to showcase its products. Rather than finish line champagne, for instance, the riders on the podium raise a cleansing glass of lager or the more bike-friendly Radler shandy.
Amstel Gold, for what it’s worth, is also a specific offering in the brewery’s line-up. Unlike the full-bodied, exciting race to which it lends its name, the strong pilsner has been described by pundits on RateBeer as possessing “an aroma of cardboard and corn”, and a taste that is “papery, corny with cardboard … pretty bad.” Bottoms up.
The race is known for its great wealth of road furniture.
Narrow roads with parked cars, speed bumps, roundabouts, bollards, refuge islands — there’s a lot to watch out for while racing Amstel Gold Race. Crashes are common.
The women’s and men’s races are held on the same day.
Both races start in the provincial capital of Maastricht, and both finish just outside Valkenberg (which hosted the 2012 Road World Championships). Both races are run simultaneously — the men’s race starts before the women’s, but the women’s finishes first.
The men’s race
It’s the 54th edition of the men’s Amstel Gold Race.
At 54, Amstel Gold is roughly half the age of the five Monuments. That said, it’s still an important WorldTour race in its own right. Useless fact: Of the 53 editions so far, 17 have been won by a Dutchman.
Jan Raas holds the record for the most wins with five.
The Dutchman won this race each year from 1977 to 1980 and then again in 1982. Second on the all-time leaderboard is recent Paris-Roubaix winner Philippe Gilbert, who took the crown in 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2017.
The men’s race is 258km long and features four different sections.
From Maastricht there’s an opening section that runs north, then south east, before the start of three different loops. These loops are all different lengths and they intersect and double up at various points. Just like the Tour of Flanders, the Amstel race route is a twisting, winding mess — you have to feel for the event staff who get tasked with putting out directional signage.
The route has changed considerably in recent years, but this year’s route is the same as last year.
Until 2012, the race ended at the top of the Cauberg, the race’s most famous climb. In 2013 the finish was moved a few kilometres beyond the top of the climb, to make it more than a race to see who could climb the Cauberg the fastest.
In 2017, the Cauberg was removed as the final climb, to shake things up even more. And in 2018, the final loop was moved on to narrower roads to make positioning even more critical in the finale. No changes have been made for this year.
The race features a total of 35 climbs.
None of the climbs is more than a few kilometres long and most are much shorter than that. These climbs aren’t overly steep either — rather it’s the number of climbs that helps to thin out the field.
Some climbs appear multiple times — for example, the legendary Cauberg (800m at 12%) which appears three times.
In all the riders will climb about 3,500 vertical metres over the course of the race.
The last two climbs are set to be the most decisive again.
The final lap contains the climbs of the Geulhemmerberg (970m at 7.9%) and the Bemelerberg (900m at 7%). The last of those tops out about 6.5km from the line, making it a great launch pad for a late attack. In fact, that’s what happened last year when an elite group broke free from the remnants of the bunch. Then there were a few more attacks that forged the final selection.
A small group or solo rider at the finish is the most likely outcome.
It’s a long, hard race with a lot of climbing. Such races tend to be whittled down to just a few riders — the very strongest in the field. Look to the punchy all-rounders for those with the greatest shot at victory — the sort of riders that can get up the many climbs and that also have the ability to win a sprint.
There are five former winners on the startlist.
Philippe Gilbert, Michal Kwiatkowski (2015), Michael Valgren (2018), Enrico Gasparotto (2016), and Roman Kreuziger (2013). Interestingly, the last three are all racing for Dimension Data this year.
Brabantse Pijl is a good indicator of form.
This Belgian one-day race is always held the Wednesday before Amstel Gold on similarly lumpy terrain and often tells us who will threaten for the win on Sunday. Wednesday’s race saw a group of four get to the finish: Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Michael Matthews (Sunweb), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus). We can expect all four to be in the mix on Sunday.
Mathieu van der Poel might just be the favourite, on debut.
The Dutch champion made his rivals look a bit silly at Brabantse Pijl. He was on the front for most of the 1km climb to the finish, and yet when he led out the sprint from the front, no one got close to catching him. (Matthews was boxed in, but the fact Alaphilippe couldn’t get close is telling).
The 24-year-old is a monster on the bike. Most people wouldn’t be in the conversation in their Amstel Gold debut but van der Poel can absolutely win it. Late escape, small group sprint — he can win it either way.
Alaphilippe is the other five-star favourite.
The Frenchman has been the best rider in the world this year, and he’s won on just about every type of terrain. We expect to see him attack on the final climb. If it’s a small group at the finish, he’s a big threat. See his win at Milan-San Remo.
There’s a ton of really strong contenders.
Seriously, it’s a stacked line-up. Here are just some of those likely to be in the mix, in addition to van der Poel and Alaphilippe:
– Michael Matthews (Sunweb) – Been close on several occasions. Strong sprint.
– Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) – Best chance is a late attack.
– Michael Valgren (Dimension Data) – Defending champion, great with a late escape.
– Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck QuickStep) – Can get away, can win a sprint.
– Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) – Can do whatever he likes, if he’s on form.
– Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) – Stellar from a small group sprint.
– Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) – Can get away late.
– Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) – Suited to a small sprint.
– Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) – Can go solo or win a sprint.
– Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) – Been nibbling at a big result. Best in a small group.
– Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) – Great sprint at the end of long, hard races.
The women’s race
It’s the sixth edition of the women’s race.
The Ladies Amstel Gold Race actually began back in 2001 and ran for three editions … before stopping due to logistical challenges. But then the race was resurrected in 2017 and it’s been part of the Women’s WorldTour ever since.
Prize money has been doubled this year.
Last year Chantal Blaak took home just over 1,100 euros for winning Amstel Gold Race. This year the winner will receive 2,500 euros with 1,750 and 1,000 euros going to second and third respectively. Even though the men’s winner does take home roughly eight times as much (16,000 euros) it’s great to see the women’s prize money increasing.
The women will race over roughly 125km.
Like the men, the women head north out of Maastricht then swing east and south. Unlike the men though, the women don’t ride three different loops — they ride three laps of one closing loop.
The closing loop is a doozy.
While the men’s race no longer uses the Cauberg as a decisive feature, the women’s race certainly does. The 17.9km closing loop contains three climbs: the Geulhemmerberg, the Bemelerberg and then the Cauberg. They’ll tackle the legendary berg three times, the last time being just 1.8km from the finish.
There’s a total of 19 climbs.
Again, the climbs of Amstel Gold are not particularly long or steep, but they are numerous and frequent and they will thin out the field as the day goes on. In all the riders will climb roughly 1,500m over the course of the day.
The winner should be a solo rider or come from a small group.
In 2017, it was Anna van der Breggen that went clear before the Cauberg and won solo by nearly a minute. In 2018, a group of three got away on the Cauberg before Chantal Blaak won the sprint. Expect the Cauberg to force the decisive split again on Sunday … assuming that hasn’t already happened on the Bemelerberg or even earlier.
Boels-Dolmans have won the past two editions and could well win again.
Van der Breggen will start as one of the favourites, even though she’s spent most of this year focusing on mountain biking rather than racing on the road. She’s one of the very best at getting away late (or not so late!), just like she did in the 2017 Amstel Gold Race and at Road Worlds last year.
Van der Breggen will have some great support too. Former world champ Blaak showed last year she can make it over the climbs just fine and she’s a powerful sprinter at the end of hard races like this.
MTBer Annika Langvad is an interesting prospect too. She was second at Strade Bianche in one of her first-ever road races. Clearly she has the strength to challenge the best in the world and should be right at home on Sunday.
Lizzie Deignan’s return will be fascinating to watch.
It’s the first race back for the former world champion who took time off to become a mum. She’s now racing with the stacked Trek-Segafredo line-up and it will be well worth watching how she gets on.
At her best, she can win the race (she was second in 2017) but what effect has 18 months away from racing had? Given the dogged competitor she is, it’s hard to imagine her turning up just for fun.
Also of interest: how will Trek-Segafredo play its cards? Elisa Longo Borghini, Ellen van Dijk, Ruth Winder … it’s a stellar team of would-be winners, even if you leave Deignan out of the equation.
Mitchelton-Scott has two great cards to play too.
Amanda Spratt was third last year, as part of a string of top-fives in all three Ardennes Classics. She’s made no secret of the fact that these races mean everything to her and you can expect her to be at her very best this weekend.
Of course, she has Annemiek van Vleuten as a teammate too, giving the Aussie team two stellar options. At 36, Van Vleuten seems to be getting better every year, and even after a broken leg ended her 2018, she’s started 2019 brilliantly, with a win at Strade Bianche and top-seven finishes in all four races she’s done thus far. Might she attack late while Spratt marks her rivals?
There are plenty of other contenders too.
Here are just some of the riders that could challenge for the silverware:
– Lucinda Brand (Sunweb) — Second last year.
– Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla) — Third at the Tour of Flanders two weeks back.
– Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) — Equal third in 2017, a perennial contender in hilly races.
– Marianne Vos (CCC) — A perennial contender full stop. The greatest women’s racer of all time.
For your info
The weather forecast is looking great.
A few days out it’s looking like the riders will have temperatures of 22ºC with virtually no chance of rain and no real wind to speak of. Great conditions for bike racing!
Live coverage is available for both the men’s and women’s races.
Viewers in Australia will be able to catch the women’s race streaming on SBS Cycling Central and SBS OnDemand from 9:20pm to 10:20pm AEST. Live coverage of the men’s race will be available via SBS Viceland and via Cycling Central and OnDemand between 10:45pm and 1:30am.
FloBikes and Fubo.tv have coverage in the US while Eurosport is a good option worldwide. The Amstel website looks set to have live streaming as well.
For more information, be sure to check your local guides and steephill.tv.
Who do you think will win the women’s and men’s Amstel Gold Race?