Amstel Race Preview: Due to the French elections this Sunday we have the Dutch Classic Amstel Gold Race a week early on the 10th of April and Roubaix a week late. As with many Classics this year, it’s wide open as to who will be the victor. Ed Hood gives us his thoughts on the history, the course and the contenders.
Last year was close – 2022?
The big ‘warm up’ for the Flèche Wallonne and La Doyenne – as Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the fourth Monument of the year is known – is usually ‘The Amstel Gold Race,’ The Netherlands only Classic. But in this recombobulated season the Amstel comes before Paris-Roubaix, not after, due to French elections. The cobbled ‘Classicers’ have another week to wait then before the pinnacle of their season on the roads of Northern France – will Wout be back in time for the Kasseien? Let’s hope so.
The first Amstel winner and Jacques Anquetil’s training partner – Jean Stablinski
But back to The Amstel Gold Race it’s a bit of a baby as far as classics go; the Primavera goes back to 1907; Flanders to 1913 and Roubaix to 1896. For The Netherlands biggest bike race it’s a relatively recent 1966; when Frenchman Jean Stablinski took the honours.
This year will be edition 56 of the race that bears the name of Amsterdam’s main river and – of course – the lovely golden nectar. Held mainly in the lumpy southern province of Limburg – scene of Phil Gilbert’s World’s triumph in 2012 – the route has been much changed over the years; however some things haven’t changed, like the sinuous ‘ball of string on acid’ nature of the parcours and the proliferation of small climbs – there are 33 bergs this year within the 254.1 kilometres but with the legendary Cauberg no longer the climax as was the case for so long.
The major stings in the tail are 30th climb of the day, the Keutenberg, which at 1,200m in length and a maximum gradient of 22%, not fun with 29 bergs already in the legs with the final climb of the day the Bemelerberg before the flat run in to the line
Much of the course is urban, with speed bumps, bollards, ramps and lots of road furniture within that scary saw tooth profile. And if you’re into gardens then you’ll see plenty of immaculately manicured lawns during the TV coverage. Scotland’s Tour de France star, Robert Millar referred to it as ‘The Tour of the Roundabouts!’
The finish now on the Bemelerberg
Back in the 70’s the Classics were the Classics with no distinction between ‘sprinters’ – ‘Ardennes’ – ‘cobbled’ races; the same names which you’ll see on the roles of honour in the cobbled classics can be seen at the Amstel – Belgians Verbeeck, Merckx, Maertens and Breton Hinault are all there.
Jan Raas in 1980
As is home boy, Jan Raas, five times winner and ‘record man’ with five wins, including four in a row – ‘The Amstel Gold Raas,’ was the joke of the day.
Philippe Gilbert in 2017
Phil Gil’s 2017 triumph means he’s on four wins but there won’t be a fifth; his stats for the race are impressive though, as well as those four wins, he’s started and finished the race 14 times.
Davide Rebellin on the attack with Michael Boogerd in 2004
Davide Rebellin holds the record for starts in the race; 18 with 16 finishes, his last participation coming in 2016.
Jan Raas, Gilbert Duclos Lasalle, Sean Kelly and Bernard Hinault climbing the Cauberg in 1980
The home Dutch riders used to jealously guard victory on their native tarmac; between 1977 and 1991 they only allowed foreigners to slip them three times – Hinault in ’81, Aussie, Phil Anderson in ’83 and Belgium’s forgotten classics star, Eric Van Lancker in ’89. The ‘home boys’ have 18 wins in total the Belgies are on 14 and the I-talans (as Sean Kelly always calls them) and Swiss on five each.
Mathieu’s win in 2019
However, perhaps it’s the ‘Mondialisation’ of pro cycling but it took Mathieu van der Poel’s 2019 home win to end a Dutch drought stretching back to Erik Dekker in 2001 and Michael Boogerd in 1999 – but ‘Boogie’ did pack in another four second places and two thirds into the next decade. Mathieu’s dad, Adrie won the race in 1990.
and Adrie in 1990
As well as the demise of the home winner, the race has become increasingly the province of the specialist climbers and powerful, acrobatic riders who can survive the succession of short, steep rises which infest the parcours.
Notably the savage Cauberg ramp, just over the top of which the race used to conclude the race; if you can’t ‘power climb,’ you can’t win, it’s that simple. It’s a much more difficult race to pick a winner in than the Primavera, Ronde or Roubaix – few would have picked Ivanov or Kreuziger as potential winners in recent years.
Amstel Gold Race 2021
Let’s start with 10 previous winners – and can they win this year?
Last year saw Wout Van Aert take victory – albeit Tom Pidcock would dispute that; did you ever actually see the photo finish image? Me neither.
That photo finish
If Wout has recovered from the virus which denied him participation in the Ronde, then ‘yes’ he can win again. The 2020 edition succumbed to Covid.
The 2019 race gave us that fabulous finish where, not for the first or last time, MVDP astonished us, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in the closing metres – having seen him win de Ronde in the way on he did on Sunday then there’s little doubt he can win again.
Michael Valgreen in 2018
In 2018 it was Dane, Michael Valgreen having the best season of his life and adding The Amstel to The Omloop. However, a repeat win is hard to envisage.
A very young Philippe Gilbert on the attack in 2010
Philippe Gilbert took the last of his four victories in 2017; 2014 – 2011 and 2010 were his other successes but he won’t make it five this year. Father Time doesn’t mess around. Enrico Gasparotto gave Italy her last win in 2016, adding to his 2012 success; but he’s now behind the wheel of a team car.
Michal Kwiatkowski in 2015 – Too long ago?
In 2015 Michal Kwiatkowski gave Poland the win, he rides not as a potential winner but as hugely experienced road captain of a very strong INEOS line up, more of which in a moment. Roman Kreuziger took a surprise win in 2013 but he too now drives a team car. Five previous winners ride then, but only two with a realistic possibility of a repeat win.
Remember Roman Kreuziger in 2013?
Who else then?
Three teams stand out on the start sheet:
INEOS Grenadiers field a very strong squad with Dutch, Ronde runner-up, Dylan Van Baarle, young Brits on the ‘up’ Ethan Hayter and Ben Turner plus the man who reckons he won last year, Tom Pidcock.
Dylan Van Baarle has been strong in the 202 Classics so far
UAE Team Emirates don’t have the phenomenon – but poor poker player – that is Tadej Pogacar but they do have hugely experienced Italian, Matteo Trentin and young stars, his countryman Alessandro Covi and Swiss former u23 World Champion, Mark Hirschi, who is back on the winning trail with victory in Per Sempre Alfredo.
Matteo Trentin should be the UAE team leader in Amstel
As mentioned above, Jumbo Visma’s Wout Van Aert is on the start sheet but it’s hard to know his condition after missing de Ronde. However, the team has strongmen, France’s Christophe Laporte and Belgium’s Tiesj Benoot.
Tiesj Benoot could be the man for Jumbo-Visma
It’s unusual to be writing about teams for Northern Classics without eulogising about Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, but apart from Fabio Jakobsen’s Kuurne triumph their spring has been a poor one – can young Italian climber, Andrea Bagioli stop the rot?
Young Italian Andrea Bagioli – Quick-Step’s hope
But it’s good to be mentioning a French team as a Classics force – Groupama FDJ have Swiss strongman, Stefan Küng and French Ronde third man, Valentin Madouas.
Strong as always – Stefan Küng
DSM Dane, Soren Kragh Andersen is one and BikeExchange Aussie, Michael Matthews another – just outside the top 10 in de Ronde and just off the podium in the Primavera.
Matthews is in form
And the beer of the day?
In 1870, Charles de Pesters & Johannes van Marwijk Kooij felt that the bier available to the people of Amsterdam simply was not good enough. They looked to the Bavarian pilsner brew techniques to create a bier with more depth and flavour – one that would surpass the thin, top fermented beers of the day. That year, the Amstel Brewery was built on Mauritskade in Amsterdam. Now, almost 150 years later, not only the Dutch, but people from all over the world know the excellent quality of Amstel®.
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