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Valkenburg - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Ben Hermans (BMC Racing Team) - Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) Cauberg climb pictured during the 50th Amstel Gold Race 2015 UCI - WC - world cup race from Maastricht to Valkenburg - photo Poolfoto/Cor Vos © 2015

Amstel’16: The PEZ Preview

The cobbles are only a dusty memory for the riders as the WorldTour circus moves onto the ‘hilly’ Classics and we see a change in the race menu and the list of main characters. First up is the Amstel Gold Race and Ed Hood runs through the history, the parcours and the protagonists for 2016.

We’re done with cobbles for another year – it’s the ‘Ardennes Classics’ phase of the season now with Flèche Wallonne and the fourth Monument, Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

The ‘warm up’ for the Flèche and La Doyenne – as Liege-Bastogne-Liege is known – is now ‘The Amstel,’ The Netherlands only Classic although it did used to fall after the two Belgian races. The Amstel Gold Race is a bit of a whipper snapper 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 France’s Jean Stablinski took the honors.

Jean Stablinski, the first Amstel winner

This year will be edition 51 of the race that bears the name of Amsterdam’s main river and – of course – the golden beer. Held mainly in the lumpy 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 – the sinuous nature of the course and the proliferation of small climbs, there are 34 this year within the 249 kilometers with the legendary Cauberg as the climax.

50th Amstel Gold Race 2015
BMC’s Hermans and Gilbert, both a good bet

Much of the course is urban, with speed bumps, bollards, ramps and lots of road furniture. Scotland’s Tour de France star, Robert Millar referred to it as ‘The Tour of the Roundabouts!’


Back in the 70’s the Classics were the Classics and the same names which you’ll see on the roles of honor in the cobbled classics can be seen at the Amstel – Belgians Verbeeck, Merckx, Maertens and Breton Hinault are all there. 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.

Amstel Gold Race scans
World champion Jan Raas in 1980

Raas also boasts the record for top 10 finishes on eight; the same number of top 10’s as a certain Davide Rebellin (CCC Sprandi Polkowice & Italy) whose record is: 1 win, 1 x 2nd, 3 x 4th, 1 x 5th, 1 x 6th, 1 x 8th. Rebellin also holds the record for starts in the race; 17 with 16 finishes and he’ll be the oldest rider in the 2016 race at 44 years and 251 days.

Amstel Gold Race
Both winners: Boogerd and Rebellin

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 17 wins in total the Belgies 12 and the I-talans (as Sean Kelly always calls them) six.

Cor Vos Archives
Hinault, Kelly and Raas on the Cauberg

However, perhaps it’s the ‘Mondialisation’ of pro cycling but there hasn’t been a home winner since 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.

As well as the demise of the home winner, the race has become increasingly the playground 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 concludes; if you can’t ‘power climb,’ you can’t win, it’s that simple.

50th Amstel Gold Race 2015
The fans love the Cauberg

It’s a much more difficult race to pick a winner in than the Primavera, Ronde or Roubaix – few would have picked Ivanov or Gasparotto as potential winners in recent years. We’re lacking one wee piece of the form puzzle for the race – the result of the Brabantse Pijl, run off before we went to press; Ben Hermans (BMC & Belgium) won it last year from Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE & Australia) and Phil Gilbert (BMC & Belgium) with Matthews taking third and Gilbert 10th in the Amstel.

Amstel Gold Race 2014
Matthews for the podium?

But without further ado, here’s our Terrific Ten for Sunday:

Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick-Step & France): was the sensation of the Ardennes, last year – seventh in the Amstel then second in both The Flèche and Liege. He’s a year stronger and it’s ‘all for Julian’ within the world’s strongest Classics team with Dan Martin sitting this one out so he’s rested to attempt that difficult Flèche/Liege double.

Hamburg Vattenfall-Cyclassics 2015
Alaphilippe this year?

Simon Clarke (Cannondale & Australia): is an outsider for sure but the parcours suit him and there were some strong showings in Tirreno and the Pais Vasco.

Simon Clarke wins the G.P Larciano
Clarke wins the G.P Larciano

Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida & Portugal): just off the Amstel podium in 2015 he’s had a year to figure where he got it wrong; decent stage placings in the Pais Vasco and Paris-Nice suggest form isn’t too far away.

stage 6 - Criterium du Dauphine Libere 2015
Rui Costa has been quiet so far in 2016

Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal & France): was sixth last year and whilst he hasn’t been setting the world alight recently this is his kind of parcours and the motivation will be strong.

Milano - Sanremo WT 2016
A good day for Tony Gallopin?

Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty-Groupe Gobert & Italy): despite Old Father Time clinging to his shirt tails, 2012 winner here, ‘Gaspa’ was eighth here last year and those Wanty boys are no respecters of reputation.

Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2015 (1.UWT)
Gasparotto could do with a result

Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE & Australia): has based ‘Phase Two’ of his season around the next 10 days – ‘Phase One’ being The Tour Down Under – the Amstel where he’s been third three times; Flèche and Liege, where he won in 2014. A master of getting it right on the day, the Aussie team’s morale will be sky high after Hayman’s Tour de Force on Sunday.

Santos Tour Down Under 2016 stage 4
Gerrans will be ready for Amstel

Philippe Gilbert (BMC & Belgium): is on the start list but were not sure if he’ll be fit given his ‘altercation’ with a motorist which left him with a broken finger. Gilbert is the second most successful Amstel rider of all time behind Raas with wins in 2010, ‘11 and ’14 plus a fourth, a fifth, a sixth and 10th just last year.

Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky & Poland): won here last year and was most impressive in beating Sagan to the line in the E3 this year.
His team is strong and his motivation will be too.

100ste Ronde van Vlaanderen 2016
Kwiatkowski has the form

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE & Australia): was third here last year; unlucky in Milan-Sanremo and hugely impressive in Paris-Nice.
He can win, especially with team mate Gerrans there to draw the flak for him. . .

Paris - Nice - stage 1
Another win for Orica and Matthews

Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal & Belgium): was top 20 last season here in Limburg but has been going nicely this season when the parcours suits; witness his last stage coup in Paris-Nice.
And as well as Gallopin and Wellens the sealant boys have Benoot and Vanendert up their sleeve. It could be their day.

Lotto Soudal has many guns for Sunday

And the good thing about this one is that you don’t even have to ask which beer to drink as you watch the race unfold. . .

#Full race report on Sunday and catch-up in EUROTRASH and the Photog’s View on Monday. Live action can be found on Steephill TV.#

It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

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