Now that the cobbles have taken their toll on the peloton, it’s time for Ardennes week where the climbs will kick butt. It all starts on Sunday with the 49th edition of the climb-tastic Amstel Gold.
- There are 34 climbs in the 251.4km from the start at Maastricht to the finish in Valkenburg.
- The riders take on three challenging circuits and have to climb the iconic Cauberg (average gradient 12%) four times, with the finish line 1.8km from the top of the final ascent.
- The Keutenberg, 31km from the finish, has a thigh-shredding 22% maximum gradient.
- The day’s constant climbing is complemented by narrow, twisty roads, often with cars parked on the side of the road, so there will be constant jostling for position. Crashes are almost inevitable.
- The podium girls wear hats, corsages and skirts made of Amstel Gold beer mats. I tried to make my own Amstel skirt one year – the project was ill-fated.
- The winner of the first edition of the race was Frenchman Jean Stablinski. His prize was a gold ring in the shape of an Amstel Gold beer barrel.
- If PhilGil wins on Sunday, he will have three wins under his belt. Only Jan Rees has won more (five).
Who to watch
Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) will pin on the number 1 on Sunday and he must be confident of his chances. He’s shown strong form this season in service to Alberto Contador and, as he will no doubt be riding for Contador most of the summer, this is his chance to get some glory of his own.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) has also been showing good form this year – and a good tactical brain as evidenced in his Strade Bianche victory. He’s an excellent climber, a good bike handler and can give that little extra kick at the end of a hard race to leave his competition behind. He has Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra riding with him, as well as Zdenek Stybar, Jan Bakelants and Wout Poels so he won’t be without team firepower to help him along.
BLOG: Strade Bianche review: King Kwiatkowski
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) will want to attack on some of the steeper parts of the parcours and, if he plays his cards right, he could ride away before the others can respond. The rider who might go with him would be Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who has notched up more victories than any rider this season so far. Both of these riders are dangerous and therefore might be heavily marked.
To add to my #KwiatKrush, I have to put in my #CostaCrush. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) will want to get the rainbow jersey on the top step of the podium and, like Kwiatkowski, he’s a strong climber with an excellent sense of timing.
And finally, BMC’s Philippe Gilbert must be feeling confident after his win at Brabantse Pijl this week. The finish of the course is the same as that of the 2012 World Championship road race when he took the rainbow jersey, so he knows what it takes to win on the Cauberg.
Link: Official website