The Amstel Gold Race is the first – and youngest – of the three Ardennes classics. Sponsored by the Dutch beer giant, the race is traditionally unpredictable, with its undulating parcours favouring anyone from puncheurs such as Philippe Gilbert, to pure climbers like Frank Schleck or Damiano Cunego. Surprisingly, it’s the only Dutch race to feature on the UCI WorldTour itinerary.
What kind of race is it?
It’s a tough race, with 25 climbs featuring in the 255.1km parcours. It’s not a race where brute force is important (like Paris-Roubaix), as climbing ability is vital to be at the front – so much so that often it’s Grand Tour specialists who emerge victorious. It starts in the main square of Dutch town Maastricht, and finishes atop the 1.2km Cauberg hill, with a maximum gradient of 12%.
Much like the Cauberg, the rest of the climbs are short and sharp, with some even thrown in twice for good measure. Amstel Gold winds through narrow roads punctuated by terrifying levels of traffic furniture. Crosswinds heighten the race’s tension, buffeting the riders in the Limburg region where the race takes place.
What’s more, for this year, the parcours has been altered slightly, with the distance between the final two climbs shortened by over 2km – a considerable amount, and hopefully enough to draw out the climbers a little earlier. Race director Leo van Vliet explains:
The shorter distance between the Keutenberg and the Cauberg may tempt the daredevils to make a grab for victory.
With the local crowds having no doubt sampled the Amstel throughout the day, it’s a race with a magnificent feel, embodying the atmosphere of the spring Classics season.
Winners in the last five years:
2007: Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner)
2008: Damiano Cunego (Lampre)
2009: Serguei Ivanov (Team Katusha)
2010: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
2011: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
To check out the climbs and parcours of Amstel Gold for yourself, visit Cycling the Alps’ website here.
What happened last year?
Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Philippe Gilbert began his historic Ardennes triple with a second consecutive win at Amstel Gold in 2011. A strong attack from Andy Schleck was reeled in, with the Belgian turning up the speed in the final metres.
Katusha’s Joaquim Rodríguez finished second, despite attacking first on the Keutenberg climb. It was a strong ride from the Spaniard, but he didn’t have enough to beat Gilbert to the line. Hardly surprising, given that he was in the form of his life, and form which he’s struggled to replicate so far this season.
One of the favourites for this year’s race, Simon Gerrans (now with GreenEDGE), rounded out the podium for Sky, with the brave Andy Schleck eventually finishing 11th after his bid for the win with 11km to the line.
1. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 6:30:44
2. Joaquim Rodríguez Oliver (Katusha) +0:02
3. Simon Gerrans (Sky) +0:04
4. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +0:05
5. Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) s/t
6. Oscar Freire (Rabobank) s/t
7. Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:07
8. Ben Hermans (RadioShack) +0:18
9. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) +0:19
10. Paul Martens (Rabobank) +0:26
Who to watch
Following on from his poor form so far this season, Philippe Gilbert is no longer favourite for the race. You can never count anyone out in cycling, and especially not Gilbert. But his season is yet to really get going, something freely admitted by the Belgian champion:
You have to be realistic … I’m not the favourite. My main ambition is to re-find my shape, the shape I had last year. Either it will come or it won’t … Let’s put it this way: right now it’s not pleasant. Also because it is difficult to find a way out, to analyze why I’m lacking shape.
Instead the race favourite is Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez, who, as mentioned above, finished second at this race last year. His punchy style is perfectly suited to such terrain, and he has shown himself to be in good form with stage wins in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and Tirreno-Adriatico.
His compatriot Alejandro Valverde of Movistar is also in good shape, and would certainly make some headlines if he were to take victory. GreenEDGE’s Simon Gerrans won Milan-San Remo and, having finished on the podium here last year, seems even better prepared for a charge to victory.
Elsewhere Peter Sagan can never be counted out of any race, with Damiano Cunego, Samuel Sanchez and Cadel Evans all climbers who could excel on the Amstel Gold parcours, with several likely to treat the race as a warm-up for September’s World Championship road race, which also finishes on the Cauberg. At a long shot are Vincenzo Nibali or Thomas Voeckler, riders who’ve shown in the past their capability on hilly races – the latter arrives in high spirits having won the hilly Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday.
Link: Official website