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Valkenburg - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - illustration - sfeer - illustratie windmill at the top of the Adsteeg in Beek pictured during UCI World Tour race the Amstel Gold Race 2016 from Maastricht to Valkenburg, the Netherlands - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2016

PEZ Preview: Amstel Gold Race ’17

Amstel Gold Race Preview: The dust has settled on the cobbles of Flanders and Roubaix and so the WorldTour turns its eyes towards the hillier races of the Dutch and Belgian Ardennes. Flèche-Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are next week, but this Sunday is Holland’s biggest one day race, the Amstel Gold Race.

Valkenburg - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Valgren Michael (Danmark / Team Tinkoff - Tinkov) - Gasparotto Enrico (Italy / Wanty - Groupe Gobert) -  Colbrelli Sonny  (Italy / Bardiani CSF)  pictured during UCI World Tour race the Amstel Gold Race 2016 from Maastricht to Valkenburg, the Netherlands - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2016
The beer flows on the 2016 Amstel podium

Route History
The Amstel Gold race combines two great loves of many cyclists: beer and cycling. Named after the Dutch beer company, who sponsored the first race in 1966 and have now become synonymous with the event, which kick starts the Ardennes Classic’s week. The first race was a shambles, it was meant to begin in Amsterdam and end in Maastricht. However, the organizers soon realized that they had incorrectly calculated their route and the 280km course was actually well over 300km. Cue a hastily arranged change in start to the more southerly town of Breda and a change in finish to Meerssen, directly between Maastricht and Valkenburg.


Philippe Gilbert attacks on the road to Valkenburg in 2013

The inaugural race went off broadly without a hitch, it was won by Frenchman Jean Stablinski, after Dutch team mate Jan Hugens suffered a mechanical in the final few meters, but it was clear that the route needed to be changed.


Jean Stablinski training with Jaques Anquetil

The second edition began in Helmond, around mid way down the Netherlands, and finished in Meerssen again. It stayed this way until 1971 when the decision was made to shift the start to Heerlen, the next town to the east of the current start and finish in Maastricht and Valkenburg. The town of Maastricht was only included as a start or finish in 1991, as a finish. It was then used as both a start and a finish in 1998 to 2002 before the current configuration of a start in Maastricht and a finish in Valkenburg was hit upon.


Frans Maassen got the better of Maurizio Fondriest and Dirk de Wolf in the 1991 Amstel

Race History
The rider with the most Amstel Gold wins is Dutch sprinter Jan Raas, with five. The ten time Tour de France stage winner had a stranglehold on the race in the late 70’s and early 80’s, but as the race changed into the 21st century, the type of winner also changed. Since 2000, Philippe Gilbert has been the most prolific winner, taking the honors three times. Last year’s victor, Enrico Gasparroto’s two victories, his first in 2012, are enough to bring him level with Eddy Merckx, 1973 and 1975, for third in the all time list.

Heerlen-Limburg-wielrennen-cycling-cyclisme- archief-stock-archive- Amstel Gold Race diverse jaren- Jan Raas -  foto Cor Vos ©2005
Jan Raas won the 1980 Amstel Gold Race – one of his five wins

If you’re looking for a tip for Sunday, proximity is important, in the 51 editions of the race, a rider from Belgium or the Netherlands has won 29 times. Unfortunately for the home crowd, there hasn’t been a Dutch winner since Erik Dekker in 2001 and, if you’re a Belgian, you have to go all the way back to 1994 to find a winner who wasn’t Gilbert, Johan Museeuw.


2012 and 2016 winer; Enrico Gasparroto

Route
For many fans, especially younger ones, the Amstel Gold Race will be known for the Cauberg, the finishing climb between 2003-2012, a sinuous drag through Valkenburg. Even after it was replaced as the finish line in 2013, it retained a prominent place in the race, the new finish line was just 2km later. However, this year the organizers have removed the Cauberg from the finishing circuit, which will open the race up to a much broader spectrum of rider. There’s still 35 climbs to negotiate, so don’t expect to see a bunch sprint, but the removal of the final challenge will drastically change the race.

Valkenburg - Netherlands  - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - illustration Cauberg Climb   pictured during the Amstel Gold Race 2013  - world cup race from Maastricht to Valkenburg on April 14 - photo Cor Vos © 2013
No Cauberg finish for 2017

Apart from this change, the route is basically the same as it has been of late. The riders will start in Maastricht and head briefly north before looping round for the first ascent of the Cauberg. They will then go onto a second course, which frankly I’m not sure anybody really knows where it goes; it heads south and ends up in Belgium for a bit, it also loops back on itself a couple of times and climbs the nose-bleeding inducing highpoint, the 320m Drieladenpuntberg and finally, the Cauberg once again.


The final lap – 2016 and 2017

All following along so far? Okay. The race now heads onto a third course and into the final 100km. We’re on familiar roads to begin with, but we soon branch off towards the outskirts of Maastricht before being reeled in and sent on the climb infested roads of the latter part of the second route and, once again, an ascent of the Cauberg. The final one of the race.

Oscar Camenzind, Michael Boogerd en Peter van Petegem tijdens de beklimming van de Bemelerberg, foto Cor Vos©1998
The 1998 Worlds used the Bemelberg – Oscar Camenzind, Michael Boogerd and Peter van Petegem

The final loop is a clipped lap to the east of Valkenburg which features the two climbs of the Geulhemberg and the Bemelerberg. At the summit of the Bemelergberg the riders will head left at the roundabout, one of many pieces of street furniture on the route, for a 2km dash to the new finish line. It remains to be seen whether the new route will yield the type of attacking racing the route designers are hoping for.

Contenders
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC/Belgium) – A GVA on the type of form he’s shown so far this year, and late last year, could probably have won an Amstel Gold with either of the old finishing lines, but the removal of the final Cauberg ascent really cranks up his chances.

Roubaix - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Greg VAN AVERMAET (Belgium / BMC Racing Team) pictured during the 115th Paris-Roubaix (1.UWT) - foto NV/PN/Cor Vos © 017
Greg Van Avermaet – Roubaix last week, Amstel this Sunday?

Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors/Belgium) – A first win since 2014 would not go a miss for the evergreen Walloon. Gilbert has been putting in a stunning start to 2017 and his ability to motor clear in the finishing stages will not have been lost on anyone.

Oudenaarde - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Philippe GILBERT (Belgium / Team Quick Step - Floors)pictured during the of Flanders Classics UCI WorldTour 101st Ronde van Vlaanderen cycling race with start in Antwerpen and finish in Oudenaarde on April 02, 2017 - foto Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos © 2017
Tour of Flanders winner had a rest last week – Gilbert should be ready for Amstel

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar/Spain) – The Spaniard may not find the route selective enough to triumph, but by April he’s already secured nine victories, the third most of any season in his career. He’s also dominated the Ardennes’ week in the past, taking seven victories in Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but never previously winning Amstel Gold.


The ‘Old Man’ could add Amstel to Flèche and Liège wins

Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb/Australia) – Until the Tour of the Basque Country, it was a case of close but no cigar for the Australian. He’d taken five top 10 finishes in the season before he won the opening stage, and the yellow jersey, into Eguesibar-Sarriguren.

Sarriguren - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Michael James MATTHEWS (Australia / Team Sunweb) pictured duringstage - 1 of the 57th Vuelta al Pais Vasco (2.UWT) - from Eguesibar to Sarriguren (153.3k) photo Miwa iijima/Cor Vos © 2017
The new finish could suit Michael Matthews

Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky/Poland) – Victories in Strade Bianche and Milan Sanremo have set the Pole up for a strong season. However, both races have featured distinct and selective finales, it remains to be seen whether he can achieve the same top results with such a distance between the last climb and the finish line.

Sanremo - Italy - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - KWIATKOWSKI Michal (POL) Rider of Team SKY wins this sprint before SAGAN Peter (SVK) Rider of Team Bora - Hansgrohe and ALAPHILIPPE Julian (FRA) Rider of Quick-Step Floors pictured during Milano - Sanremo 2017 - photo NV/PN/Cor Vos © 2017
Wins in Strade Bianche and Milan Sanremo, it’s been a good Spring for the Pole

Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie/France) – A victory in a Vuelta stage last year set him up well for a very strong start to the season where he’s won the overall at Étoile de Bessèges, Coppi e Bartali, and Circuit de la Sarthe. He’s a sprinter who can climb, or a climber who can sprint, depending on which race he’s just won.


Lilian Calmejane might not be the first name to come to mind – A French win!

Wildcards:
Michael Albasini
(Orica-Scott/Switzerland) The Swiss rider can be relied upon to be close to the front on the harder hilly days, he’d benefit from Amstel moving the race to Switzerland though, 11 of his 26 wins have come on home soil.

Eltziego - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Michael Albasini (ORICA-Scott) - Ariel Maximiliano Richeze †(Quick-Step Floors) - Sean DE BIE (Belgium / Team Lotto Soudal) - Michael James MATTHEWS (Australia / Team Sunweb) pictured duringstage - 1 of the 57th Vuelta al Pais Vasco (2.UWT) - from Pamplona to Eltziego (173.4k) - photo Miwa iijima/Cor Vos © 2017
Albasini had the form in País Vasco, what about Holland

Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida/Italy) Colbrelli doesn’t win all that many races, 16 in a seven year career, and he’s only won three ranked .HC or higher. But he’s consistently near the front on the selective days and will be well suited to the new finish.

Dubai Tour 2017 - 1st stage Nakheel stage 181 km - 31/01/2017 - Sonny Colbrelli (ITA - Bahrain - Merida) - photo Luca Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2017
Can Colbrelli take the big win?

Enrico Gasparotto (Bahrain-Merida/Italy) the Italian won last year, but he’s only won two races since the start of 2012 – curiously, two victories at Amstel Gold. He’s unlikely to triumph with the revised course but deserves a mention on this list as a two time winner.


2016 winner Enrico Gasparotto

# Stay tuned to PEZ for the Amstel race report on Sunday and more news from Holland in EUROTRASH Monday. For live action go to steephill.tv HERE. #

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