Preview: Your guide to the 2021 men’s Amstel Gold Race
The Amstel Gold Race is the only Dutch one-day event on the men’s WorldTour calendar. It’s a race known for its many twists and turns, its frequent climbs, and its abundance of road furniture.
Ahead of Sunday’s running of the 55th men’s Amstel Gold Race, here’s what you need to know about the course, the contenders, and how it might all play out.
This year’s Amstel Gold Race is “only” 216.7 km in length, roughly 50 km shorter than previous editions. But that’s not the only way this year’s race is different.
The 2020 edition was cancelled due to COVID and while organisers have been able to put on this year’s race, some concessions were required to get it off the ground. Namely, the race does far less meandering around the Dutch countryside than normal and is instead concentrated in one small pocket of Limburg, the hilly province in the southern tip of the Netherlands.
Gone is the long opening section and then a series of local laps. Instead the race now comprises 12 laps of a 16.9 km circuit, before a similar, final lap of 15.9 km. Both circuits are closed off to the public, and fans are being asked to stay at home.
The main lap features three climbs: the Geulhemmerberg (970 m at 7.9%), the Bemelerberg (900 m at 7%), and the legendary Cauberg (800 m at 7.4%) where the race used to finish until 2013. Where recent editions of the Amstel Gold Race climbed the Cauberg three times, this year’s race visits 12 times!
The final lap is the same as the one used in 2018 and 2019. It’s a modified version of the main lap, the main difference being that it skips the Cauberg and takes narrower roads back towards the finish.
As a result, the final two climbs of the day are the Geulhemmberg (14.4 km to go) and Bemelerberg (7 km to go), before an undulating and then mostly flat run-in to the finish in Berg en Terblijt.
All up, that gives the riders a hefty total of 38 climbs for the day, up a little from the 35 of recent editions.
What happened last time
The last edition of the men’s Amstel Gold Race, in 2019, was something very special indeed. Mathieu van der Poel was leading a chase group that was one minute behind leaders Julian Alaphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang with just 3 km to go. With Van der Poel doing most of the chasing, the chase group caught the leaders with just a few hundred metres to go, before Van der Poel sprinted past to take a most incredible and unlikely victory.
If Rob Hatch’s commentary of the closing kilometre doesn’t give you goosebumps, well, I don’t know what to tell you.
How this year’s race might unfold
Unlike with most of the other big one-day races, we can’t really look back at a stack of recent editions to see what to expect from Sunday’s race. The final lap has only existed in its current form since 2018 (two editions) and before that, the finale looked quite a bit different (featuring the Cauberg in the closing kilometres, and before that, as the final climb to the line). And as noted, this year’s course is different in the lead-up to the final lap, too.
All that said, we can make some assumptions about how the closing kilometres are going to look. We won’t be getting a massive bunch sprint, for example. There are just too many climbs, and too many puncheurs on the startlist for it to stay together. Instead it’s likely to be a small group that gets to the finish, or possibly even a solo rider.
Expect a decent breakaway to get up the road early and to make the running for most of the opening laps. Expect the bunch to be in pieces already as the riders reach the final 50 km, and for the big hitters to venture forth after that.
The climbs on the last few laps are the obvious place for a winning move to go or the crucial selection to be made. Take the 2018 edition for example, where an elite group broke free from the remnants of the bunch on the Bemelerberg. The race was won by Michael Valgren after attacking from that elite selection with about 2 km to go.
In short, expect an aggressive race with plenty of attacks, and a winning move of 10 riders or less, with the peloton in fragments behind.
Before we get to the favourites, let’s make note of one crucial absence: Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix). The defending champ is taking a break after the Tour of Flanders which, for those of us watching at least, is a bit of a shame. It would be great to see the Dutch champ lighting it up again at the biggest Dutch race on the calendar. He would certainly have been one of the favourites.
Of those racing, a handful stand out as those most capable of victory. World champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) has finished inside the top seven in his last four finishes, without reaching the podium. I’d say that’ll probably change on Sunday.
Alaphilippe has been plenty aggressive so far this season and has secured some good results – most notably second at Strade Bianche and a stage win at Tirreno-Adriatico – but he’s yet to hit the jackpot at a one-day event this year. You’d have to think he’ll be on the move on Sunday.
He’d love to get away solo on the final lap, but if he’s there in a small group, he can win in a sprint too.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) recently took a big one-day win at Gent-Wevelgem, and he also won two stages at Tirreno-Adriatico (en route to second overall!), but in a strange way, it feels like the Belgian’s spring has been defined by falling just short in the most important one-day races.
Fourth at Strade Bianche, third at Milan-San Remo, sixth at the Tour of Flanders, and second at Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday – it’s no wonder Van Aert is getting frustrated. “It does suck that I missed out on the win again,” he said after being beaten in the sprint at Brabantse Pijl. “I was in the selection again but I also came up short again. That’s not nice.”
Expect Van Aert to be racing with a head of steam on Sunday. And expect him to be in the selection again. Like Alaphilippe, he’d love to get away solo, but he’s equally capable of winning a sprint … from a group of just about any size.
Note too that Van Aert will have Primoz Roglic in support. The Slovenian just won Itzulia Basque Country and while he’ll probably be more at home at the hillier Liege-Bastogne-Liege the following Sunday, we might still see him playing a key support role. A late attack from Roglic, allowing Van Aert to follow the chase behind? Sounds like a solid plan.
And then there’s Tom Pidcock (Ineos-Grenadiers) who’s coming off a wonderful win at Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday – his first victory since joining the big leagues. Pidcock was wonderfully aggressive on the climbs and then beat Van Aert in the uphill sprint to the line (see video below) – no mean feat.
Expect the brilliant 21-year-old to feature in the decisive moves on Sunday as well. On paper, the flatter finish at Amstel Gold should favour Van Aert if the pair are there contesting a sprint again, but who really knows. Let’s not forget that Pidcock did finish third in the sprint from a group of 30 at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne earlier in the season. In short, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Pidcock take his first WorldTour win on Sunday.
Note that Pidcock has 2015 winner Michal Kwiatkowski in his camp too. The Pole went close in 2019, and has a total of four top-five finishes in this race. His experience certainly won’t hurt Pidcock’s chances, plus ‘Kwiato’ is more than capable of featuring late if that’s how the race unfolds.
Alaphilippe, Pidcock and Van Aert might be the top favourites, but there are plenty of challengers just behind them; riders well capable of taking victory. Here’s a selection.
Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates) seems to be edging closer to a big win as the spring progresses. The Italian was third at Gent-Wevelgem, third at Brabantse Pijl, and has been plenty aggressive at these and other recent one-day races. Look for him to be present in (if not forging) the decisive moves, and if he’s in a small lead group at the finish, he’s in with a real chance.
UAE-Team Emirates also has Marc Hirschi on the startlist. One of the revelations of last season, the Swiss rider has been quiet so far in 2021, but he showed at Fleche Wallonne (first) and Liege-Bastogne-Liege (second) last year that the Ardennes suit him wonderfully. So don’t be surprised to see him at the pointy end on Sunday.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) has also had a quiet year so far – his ninth at Strade Bianche is his most notable result. Fuglsang was third in the previous edition of the race, and rode well enough for an even better result. To win on Sunday, the Dane will likely need to get away on his own, or in a small group without any of the fastest finishers. Very possible.
Between 2015 and 2017 Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) finished third, fifth and 10th at this race. Expect him inside the top 10 again on Sunday. With fifth at Gent-Wevelgem, sixth at Milan-San Remo, and two podium finishes at Paris-Nice, Matthews has been around the mark all season so far, without snagging a win. Maybe Sunday will be his day (most likely from a small group), assuming he’s recovered fine from a touch-down at Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday.
Other riders to watch include:
- Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo): The Milan-San Remo winner is on debut but clearly on form. Watch for a late move.
- Alejandro Valverde (Movistar): A win is unlikely for the 40-year-old but he’s riding well (seventh at Itzulia Basque Country, fourth at Catalunya).
- Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r-Citroen): Third at Flanders shows he’s thereabouts and in with a shot of improving on his best of fifth.
- Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe): The Paris-Nice winner was fifth in 2019 and well capable of getting in the right move on Sunday.
- Simon Clarke (Qhubeka-Assos): The 2019 runner-up has shown good one-day form so far this year, notably eighth at Strade Bianche.
- Michael Valgren (EF Education-Nippo): Second in 2016, winner in 2018, the Dane would be among the top contenders if he hadn’t had such an anonymous start to 2021.
How to watch it
If you’re keen to catch the race in the US or Canada, you’ll need to tune into FloBikes. SBS Viceland and On Demand will have live coverage in Australia. In just about every other territory, your best bet is either GCN+ or Eurosport. As usual, be sure to check the broadcast details and times for your local region.
Who’s going to win the men’s Amstel Gold Race? And how?