The week of Ardennes classics are kicked off on Sunday with the Amstel Gold Race. The peloton will be pleased to have left the pavé behind as they head to Limburg in the Netherlands for the youngest of the three races that make up the Ardennes triple-header. Revamped with an even more difficult finishing circuit for this edition, this race is even more unpredictable than ever.
What kind of race is it?
Amstel Gold derives its name through the sponsorship provided by the Dutch beer giant rather than the river, and it is the youngest of the three Ardennes classics. First run in 1966, it is regarded as the least prestigious of the three races, though is nevertheless an excellent victory for a rider’s palmarès. From Eddy Merckx to Bernard Hinault and more recently Philippe Gilbert, some of cycling’s greats have won here.
Starting in Maastricht, the race takes in 34 sharp climbs in its 251.8km course, finishing 2km past the climb of the Cauberg in Valkenburg, where the road world championships finished last season.
Winners in the last five years:
2008: Damiano Cunego (Lampre)
2009: Serguei Ivanov (Katusha)
2010: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
2011: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
2012: Enrico Gasparotto (Astana)
What happened last year?
Astana’s Enrico Gasparotto upset the odds to take the biggest solo win of his career, when he sprinted to victory ahead of Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), after an excellent attack by veteran Oscar Freire (Katusha) was shut down inside the final 100 metres. It was the start of Philippe Gilbert’s (BMC) campaign to repeat his 2011 feat and complete the Ardennes triple, though after his attack failed further down the Cauberg he had to settle for a sixth place finish.
1. Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) 6:32:35
2. Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) same time
3. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:02
4. Oscar Freire (Katusha) s/t
5. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) s/t
6. Philippe Gilbert (BMC) s/t
7. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t
8. Fabian Wegmann (Garmin-Barracuda) +0:04
9. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t
10. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) s/t
This year’s race
There have been some notable tweaks to the final circuit for this year’s edition. As mentioned earlier, the finish line is now placed just under a couple of kilometres after the summit of the Cauberg, a 1.2km climb with a maximum gradient of 12%. In a fairly major adjustment, that climb will be taken in a punishing four times in a bid to increase attacking opportunities for the riders.
The change was inspired by the finish line positioning of last year’s world championships when Philippe Gilbert took victory. The adjustment will definitely make the racing more unpredictable, as no longer will it be a given that the winner will make the crucial attack on the Cauberg. Race director Leo Van Vliet had this to say:
We wanted to change the rhythm of the race and allow riders more chances to attack. We saw how the race was last year in the worlds. The new finish line changes everything.
Who to watch
There are two stand-out favourites for this race: Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, who continued his excellent spring campaign with a win at the Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday, and the man he narrowly out-sprinted to win that race, Philippe Gilbert. BMC’s Belgian world champion is yet to win in the rainbow jersey, though he seems to be coming into form at just the right time.
Elsewhere, Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez will be licking his lips at the short, sharp climb this race offers, having ridden himself into shape with a few stage races already this season. The Spaniard finished second here in 2011, and won the second of the three Ardennes races Flèche Wallonne last season.
Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) recently took a stage win at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, and is another rider who enjoys these punchy climbs. He’s a decent outside shot, alongside Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Niki Terpstra and Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Last year’s winner Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) will be racing again, though may be hampered by injuries sustained in a collision with a truck when out training on Thursday. Despite travelling at around 50kph, he miraculously managed to escape without any serious damage. His teammate Maxim Iglinskiy is probably a better bet for a good finish.
The Amstel Gold Race takes place on Sunday 14th April. Live coverage will be shown on Eurosport. For other options check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website