We’ve been wowed by Flanders and by Northern France, and now it’s the turn of the Ardennes to provide the setting for spring racing. On Sunday the Amstel Gold Race hits its half century and we’re hoping that the 50th edition will be one to remember.
- Proceedings kick off in Maastricht, from where the race covers 251km, tackling 33 climbs en route to the finish line in Valkenburg.
- Individually, the climbs themselves aren’t overly daunting, but they come in a staccato sequence – if you think about it, that’s an average of one climb every 7km or so – and the cumulative effect will take its toll on the peloton and set the scene for the puncheurs to let fly when the race hits its final phase in the final 20 km.
- A kind weather forecast for the weekend should lead to a relatively quick pace – which will cause some anxiety and twitchiness in the bunch as the tight roads, big crowds, and abundant road furniture make for a technically challenging course.
- A number of riders will have unwelcome memories of crashing in this race, not least Thomas Voeckler, who broke his collarbone here last year. Joaquim Rodriguez and Geraint Thomas also numbered among last year’s victims.
- It’s unlikely that there will be any dramatic splits in the bunch but riders will need to stay sharp to remain in contention for when the big attacks come later on.
- This will be the second year in which the finish line sits 1.8km from the summit of the 12% Cauberg. The new finish line favours those puncheurs who also possess a good finishing sprint, if they are not distanced on the climb itself.
Riders to watch
Philippe Gilbert (BMC): This is a special course for Gilbert, who has not only won three of the last five Amstel Gold Races, but also won his rainbow stripes on the same finish line in Valkenburg in 2012. We can expect to see him try to go off the front on the final ascent of the Cauberg. If the race stays together and he’s there, he’ll be a hard man to beat.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step): A favourite of ours at VeloVoices Towers, Kwiatkowski would be a popular winner and he has all of the credentials to be classed among the favourites. Two top five finishes here in the last two years underline that. He’s savvy, has staying power, and has the punch to get away when it all goes off in the finale – think last year’s Strade Bianche. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him attack with 5km to go and attempt to hold the bunch off.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar): Valverde has a strong pedigree in the Ardennes classics, has made the podium twice before and is a shrewd finisher. Once again, he has been in good form early on in the season, finishing on the podium at Strade Bianche and picking up three stage wins in the Volta a Catalunya to show that he’s likely to have a few of us shouting at the TV over the final few kilometres.
Just to hedge my bets, I’m also going to suggest a couple of outsiders in Dan Martin and Tony Gallopin. Equally, I wouldn’t like to overlook a Katusha victory, given their incredible classics season so far. Maybe Joaquim Rodriguez can avenge his 2014 crash, or if not, keep an eye out for his wingman Dani Moreno. Either way, be ready for a full-blooded treat.
Link: Official race website