Photog’s View: Amazing Amstel’16!

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Photog’s View: With the Amstel Gold Race this Sunday we look back at Wei Yuet Wong pic of his photos from 2016. Unlike this year, the start was in Maastricht, but the finish was in Valkenburg. Wei didn’t miss a trick and this is his photog’s back-stage pass to Amstel’16.

– Photos and words by Wei Yuet Wong –

The Amstel Gold Race kicks off Ardennes week. Typically spring is in full swing by now. It could still be cold the week before in Paris Roubaix, but usually, by the Ardennes, the weather is fine. Ardennes when fine is nice, but things change quickly.

The race starts in front of the Maastricht City Hall building. There are many cafes, restaurants, small hotels, and food trucks – on a usual day, the square in front would be busy. But when the race happens, I think the people just show up at the same time!

It was sunny, but chilly. No problem for the fans though. Waiting patiently, excitedly, just to see the riders they support. And for the Amstel, other than the home Dutch riders, Philippe Gilbert, although Belgian, is one the crowd favourites. Compared to the Northern Pavé classics, the Ardennes classics suit different riders, and not many riders can do both types of races. Still we have Matthew Hayman, Tony Martin, Lars Boom, Roy Curvers, Jurgen Roelandts and Edvald Bassoon Hagen at the start. The weather is cold, with dark clouds in the distance. Simon Gerrans is visibly shaking and trying to keep warm at the start.

We are reminded often that the Netherlands is a flat country – just that the hills are all located in the south. The Amstel Gold Race is like searching out all those hills, and climbing them repeatedly, in smaller and smaller concentric loops, and finishing past the Cauberg climb, in Valkenburg. Total of 34 climbs, in 248km, with good tarmac, narrow roads, and lots of road furniture.

Because the race loops over itself, in smaller and smaller loops each time, it would be easier to move around in the ‘early’ part of the race, when the loops are large. In the ‘later’ part of the race, the loops are small, timing is shorter, and would be much more difficult to get around.

My plan was hill number 4 (Bergseweg), 9 (Loorberg), 16 (Gulperberg), and 21 (Sibbergrubbe), and then to the Cauberg, and stay at the finish, and work the areas, past the finish. The Amstel uses a ‘rolling road closure’, once the First Officer passes, the road is ‘closed’, until the ‘Broom wagon’ comes through. It’s a race against the convoy, and hope I don’t get stuck behind traffic, stuck in small roads, or take a bad turn.

The Bergesweg (4), was without incident. Got there using part of the highway, and arrived about 15 mins before the convoy. The race was also in the initial stages, and the important acts still to play out. I had more fun making pictures of the people out to see the race. It was sunny, but still cold.

From the Bergesweg (4) to the next stop, Loorberg (9), I had to cross the entire route, end to the other end. I ended up being stuck for a bit on some small farm roads, and spent some time waiting with cows.

The Loorberg (9) would be climbed twice in the race, so there should be more people later in the race. By this time, the early break formed, one of the many acts to unfold for the race. The teams not represented in the break were left to control (SKY, and Orica).

From the Loorberg (9), I go to the Gulperberg (16). It’s a scenic climb with no buildings, and only open farmland to the sides. While waiting for the race, a Dutch family made some conversation with me. They were there to ride the sportive event the day before, and stayed to watch the race. In 2015, I was on the Gulperberg too, and felt that there were more people last year.

From the Gulperberg (16), my next stop is the Sibbergrubbe (21). It’s not so far away, but also not much time to get there. After the race passed, I said bye to the Dutch family, rushed down the hill. I got stuck in some traffic, and I didn’t make to the Sibbergrubbe (21). I improvised at the junction I was stopped. It was a roundabout, and I went on the little traffic island, behind the marshal with the flag. The police officer warned me, ‘This at your own risk, yeah?’ ‘Yup’. I hugged the lamppost as close as possible, and waited. At this time, the dark clouds were really menacing.

After the improvised traffic stop, I headed to the finish line at Valkenburg. Think it’s better to work the small roads behind the Cauberg, as the race still had to pass twice. It was raining out on the parcours, and getting colder.

The teams use the road just after the finish as a ‘feed zone’. Wheels, bidons, energy gels. And these attracts a lot of people hunting for bidons. I like to make pictures in the feed zone, but it’s quite dangerous. Too many people, all having their own agenda, and riders coming close to try to grab a bidon. Looking at the faces of the riders, it’s a tough edition of the Amstel, with the rain, and the cold. It was an amazing sight to see a whole bunch of riders, who did their work, and not fighting for the race win, simply just turn around, abandon the race, and head straight back to the comfort of their team buses.

The finish, and podium is usually nothing special for me, but the post-race rider portraits are. Grime splattered glasses, and helmets. Philippe Gilbert rolled in alone, and went straight out of the media melee. Weather changes quickly in the Ardennes, and tough edition of the Amstel.

# Thanks to Wei for his pics. Stay PEZ for Sunday’s PEZ Race Report and all the news in EUROTRASH and the RACE BREAKDOWN on Monday. #

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