Preview: The route and the favorites for the 2022 women’s Amstel Gold Race

With Paris-Roubaix moved back a week, the Amstel Gold Race will kick off Ardennes racing early on Sunday.

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The Presidential election in France over the weekend means that Ardennes week and Holy Week have been swirled together, with the Amstel Gold Race taking the place of Paris-Roubaix for the weekend after the Tour of Flanders. Instead of racing on the French cobbles, the women will take on short but steep climbs on Sunday in the Netherlands.

First added to the women’s calendar in 2001, the Amstel Gold Race was paused in 2004 before finally making its way onto the Women’s WorldTour calendar in 2017. Unfortunately, the race was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and although it was able to return in 2021, the organizers were forced to hold the event on only those roads used for the finishing circuit.

Since there have only been four editions of the Amstel Gold Race in recent years, it’s a quick task to look back at how the race has been won. In the first year that the Amstel Gold Race was a part of the Women’s WorldTour, Anna van der Breggen won the event solo by nearly a minute ahead of a group of four. A year later, Van der Breggen’s teammate Chantal van den Broek-Blaak edged out Lucinda Brand to take victory from a breakaway.

The 2019 edition was action-packed and ended with a successful attack from Kasia Niewiadoma, who barely stayed away from Annemiek van Vleuten to win, and in the most recent edition, Marianne Vos took the victory from a select group of 10. The final 5 km of the 2021 edition featured a blistering attack from Niewiadoma that was only brought back in the final few hundred meters. If you want to get excited for the race on Sunday, I recommend a re-watch of last year’s race.

Since it usually takes place just after the Tour of Flanders and the men’s Paris-Roubaix, the Amstel Gold Race doesn’t get nearly enough credit. The course is perfect for an aggressive style of racing, which is why Niewiadoma is nearly always a favourite, and this year will be no exception. With the Cauberg 2 km from the finish, there’s no telling what can happen and who will come away victorious at the end of the day.

The route

After last year’s closed circuit, Amstel Gold Race will return to its usual start in Maastricht for this year’s edition. The peloton will then make its way along the hilly roads of the Limburg province to Valkenburg to finish on the same 18.9 km circuit the race took place on last year.

In total, the women will race 128.5 km, with the most exciting racing to come after they have entered the Valkenburg circuits at about 60 km to go.

Before entering the final circuit the women will race up nine climbs, although the majority of the climbing will still take place once they have passed through the finish for the first time. Most of the climbs are under 10% in their grades and range from 700 meters to 2.7 km in length, with the majority covering only about 1 km. While the climbing in the first half of the race can’t be considered selective, the repetition will definitely tire out some legs.

The circuit will feature three climbs: the Cauberg, the Geulhemmerberg, and the Bemelerberg. The Geulhemmerberg is the longest of the three but the Cauberg is the most important climb on the course, not because it’s long (at 1 km) or steep (it maxes out at 12.8%), but because of where it sits in relation to the finish.

Each of the significant moves that either won or lost the race in the past were made on the Cauberg. By the top, there is only 2 km left to the finish, though that doesn’t guarantee the win to whomever can distance their rivals on the final ascent.

The favourites

Without a complete start list, it’s hard to say who the favourites are exactly for Sunday’s race but there are a few riders who we already know will be in attendance.

The last time Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) was this far into the season without a WorldTour victory was in 2018. The former world champion has still had a strong start to the year with wins at Setmana Valenciana and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but she will want a WWT win, especially after coming second to Lotte Kopecky at both Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders.

The question is: Are the days of Van Vleuten being able to drop the peloton on these shorter climbs and ride away to the finish behind us? It’s not that the Dutchwoman is any less fit than in previous years – but the rest of the women is catching up to her. The depth of the peloton is growing, and more teams are able to chase her down. That being said, she is still Annemiek van Vleuten in the end… I don’t think I need to elaborate.

Jumbo-Visma announced on Friday that the defending Amstel Gold Race champion Marianne Vos will not take to the start on Sunday. Vos is instead honing her focus in a bid to win Paris-Roubaix. In her place, the Dutch team has a few options to play for between Anna Henderson, Coryn Labecki, and Riejanne Markus. All three women together can play an aggressive game against teams with more straightforward plans.

Of course, SD Worx has a few options. After her performance in the Tour of Flanders Chantal van den Broek-Blaak can’t be dismissed. The Dutchwoman has been able to win Amstel Gold Race in the past and after working for the team for weeks she might be racing for her own victory on Sunday. Next to Van den Broek-Blaak Demi Vollering has had a quiet start to the year and didn’t have great legs at Flanders but there’s no doubt she will come around at some point soon so watch out for that.

After a disappointing Tour of Flanders Trek-Segafedo will likely rethink their tactics when it comes to a hilly classic. Elisa Balsamo is still absolutely flying this Spring, but whether the team will focus on the young Italian or let Ellen van Dijk go on the attack is anyone’s guess. They also have Shirin van Anrooij, who rode really well at Strade Bianche and could find herself in a good position to fight for a result in Valkenburg.

Canyon-SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma is always a favourite for Amstel Gold Race, especially after her win in 2019. She seemed to be trying out some new tactics at the Tour of Flanders and it looks like her legs are coming around after she was forced to miss Trofeo Alfredo Binda due to covid-19. Niewiadoma might not be in the top tier of favourites right now but she is always ready to throw down on the Cauberg.

Brodie Chapman put on an impressive performance at the Tour of Flanders. She was the only rider to hold on to Marlen Reusser’s wheel on the Oude Kwaremont and found herself in a select fight in the closing kilometres of the race. Chapman’s FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope team has multiple leaders but the only other contender for the French team at Amstel Gold Race is Marta Cavalli. Both women are strong climbers and aggressive tacticians and as an added bonus they work well together.

How to watch

We’ve been spoiled with lengthy live coverage from Flanders Classics this Spring, so the 80 minutes of live pictures scheduled for Sunday hardly seems sufficient. You can catch the action starting at 1:00 pm local time on GCN+ in Europe, FloBikes in North America, and SBS in Australia.

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