Amstel Gold Race preview

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Amstel Gold Race preview

Giant crowds, 25 different climbs and a brewery as race sponsor, what’s not to like about the Amstel Gold Race?

That said this is a different race to the events we’ve seen in recent weeks. It is the most modern of the spring classics thanks to its relative youth as an event on the calendar but also one defined by suburban roads rather than medieval farm tracks. It also marks a change in the season where grand tour contenders compete alongside one day specialists.

The Route
Most think the Netherlands is a flat country. They’re right, one quarter of the country is below sea level. Still, look at the map above and you’ll notice the finger of land that pokes south to Maastricht and Heerlen, it’s here you find hills. The highest point of the country is the Vaalserberg, at just 322 metres above sea level: only as high as the Eiffel Tour in Paris.

The race starts in Maastricht but unlike the out-and-back Liège-Bastogne-Liège, it loops all over the place often repeating roads several times, for example there are 25 climbs but 31 ascensions given some are repeated. There’s even one small incursion into Belgium.

Individually each of the 25 climbs are not hard, typically a gradient of 5% over a kilometre although a few do have double-digit slopes and the Keutenberg, the nation’s steepest road, maxes at 22%. It’s the accumulation of these climbs is something else, they become very selective after five hours of racing.

Things really pick up after 200km when the race heads over the Cauberg and crosses the finish line but with a large loop remaining.

The Roads
Sunday’s race is one of the most manic competitions of the year. Whilst the Tour of Flanders has its bergs and Paris-Roubaix has the pavé, the Amstel has… street furniture.

The Netherlands is Europe’s most densely-populated country with 393 people per square km. In second place comes Belgium (337 per km²) and Holland is more than 50% more dense than third placed Britain (244 per km²). Open space is at a premium and wilderness doesn’t exist. At times it feels like an endless suburbia where signs, lampposts and other items of street furniture clutter the roads. There are still pastures and open country… but not for long.

Amstel Gold Race

There are many traffic calming measures. These are designed make motorists slow down for fear of damaging their vehicle over a bump or into a bollard but in a race who wants to slow down? Consequently riders fight for position and those at the front of the bunch get an easy ride whilst behind everyone’s on the brakes and trying to peer ahead to spot obstacles. If you can stay upright, moving up places is very hard, if you’re at the back of the bunch you’re out of contention. The better you are going, the easier it is.

The Finish
The organiser has tweaked the finish this year in order to bring the two last climbs closer together, a short cut if you like that is designed to spice up the finale of the race. The idea is more hills should tempt climbers to go on the rampage, knowing they don’t have to face a long flat section before the uphill finish. The penultimate climb is the Keutenberg for 1.7km it is 5% but the steep part at over 15%. No spectators are allowed on this part as the road is too small.
Cauberg profile
The Cauberg is the final climb of the day and the finish line is right at the top, on a false flat. It’s 1200m long and averages 5.8% but has steeper earlier sections maxing at 12%. It means riders have to go hard on the early part but the strongest riders can come past anyone who fades from powering an excessive big gear near the top. Given over 250km of racing before, if riders come to the finish together then the Cauberg always selects a worthy winner.

Note the giant crowds too. Many will have spent the afternoon sampling Amstel beer there’s a lively vibe.

The Contenders
Normally this would be the perfect race for Philippe Gilbert. Invincible this time last year, he seems invisible now.

Instead I see a trio of Spanish contenders. Alejandro Valverde is a prime contender, able to climb and sprint but he has not been racing much, a DNF in the Volta Catalunya. But he was second in the Klasika Primavera. Besides, he won in the Tour Down Under after two years without a race. Samuel Sanchez is the next pick, he is in top form after winning the Tour of the Basque Country and able to climb and descend with ease and he has a decent jump for a finish like the Cauberg. Then comes Joaquim Rodríguez who again is in strong form and can finish fast, although I think he might be better suited to next Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne race.

Peter Sagan should be a good pick but he’s hard to categorise. With his bulky build and tendency to win sprint finishes you’d think it’s too hilly. But his display in the Swiss Alps last summer was one of my highlights from 2011 and he seemed to be climbing effortlessly on the Brabantse Pijl before a crash took him out. Oscar Freire is another rider to watch, only you might not see him until the final 200 metres.

Simon Gerrans is back. He’s been on and off since the start of the year and has already landed a big result but he’s finished third last year and could well feature. Vincenzo Nibali is also back but hasn’t raced since Sanremo so he’s an unknown quantity, similar for Cadel Evans who could be fine tuning ahead of next Sunday’s Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the Schleck brothers probably need some race miles too. Damiano Cunego is a pertually unknown quantity, always an exciting rider but often prone to collapse, not the sort of rider you’d bet on but the race suits him perfectly.

Voeckler

Thomas Voeckler is back in form, he was imperial in the Brabantse Pijl but I suspect he’ll be heavily marked come Sunday. Ryder Hesjedal always seems to finish well in this race. And let’s not forget the local riders. Rabobank are having a poor start to the season but Robert Gesink, Bauke Mollema and (Dane) Matti Breschel could feature. Vacansoleil could upstage their wealthier rivals with Wout Poels and Johnny Hoogerland, although he’s often prone to premature attackulation, launching attacks too far from the finish that waste his strength.

But the list goes on. We have a mix of cobbled classics specialists grand tour riders going head to head, we could see Cadel Evans duking it out with Simon Gerrans, Joaquin Rodriguez taking on Matti Breschel.

The winner will collect €16,000.

Police strike
A dispute by police officers over pay is threatening the race but it appears this will be resolved; if not the dispute then the race will proceed on Sunday.

The Weather
Overcast. Fog will clear and the temperature will reach 11°C (52°F). The wind will blow from the North at 15 to 30 km/h which will be consequential to the race, enough to prompt additional fatigue and influence strategy in the final 50km.

TV
There will be three hours of live TV coverage starting at 2.00pm Euro time but Eurosport will be starting at 3.00pm which suggests the international feed might only be for the last two hours. That is fine since the action is normally concentrated in the final hour anyway.

As usual there will be pirate internet video feeds for viewers around the world. See cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv.

History
First run in 1966, this is the modest modern of the spring classics. Home rider Jan Raas has the most wins with five whilst Eddy Merckx, Gerrie Knetemann, Rolf Järmann and Philippe Gilbert are all tied on two wins. The event took a while to get going and has only recently grown in stature and prestige. In years past it came the weekend after Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a last chance beer drinking saloon for classics riders trying to salvage the early season but since then it has moved, joined the World Tour and is a fine event in its own right. It is organised by ex pro Leon Van Vliet.

The Worlds
Lastly remember the Worlds are being held in the area later this year and they will use the Cauberg for the finish, only the finish will after the climb, riders must ride on for about a kilometre to reach the line.

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{ 34 comments }

Ash April 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Valverde didn’t win the TDU, he only won a stage.
“Premature attakulation” lmao.

The Inner Ring April 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Fixed. Should have been “won in”, thanks.

MT Dave April 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Worlds: is the finish a km after the climb?

The Inner Ring April 13, 2012 at 5:25 pm

I went to look up and “The finish is located 1,700 metres beyond the summit of Cauberg Hill” says the event website.

936ADL April 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Love then ‘premature attackulation’ tag for Hoogerland.

This should be in the Velominati lexicon!

Dave April 13, 2012 at 11:26 pm

“prone to premature attackulation”….thanks for the chuckle!!

Maarten April 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Gerrans wasn’t second last year, Rodriquez was. Gerrans was 3rd.

Otherwise, I love the blog.

The Inner Ring April 13, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Thanks. I was looking at the photos from last year and should have spotted this, there’s a good one showing Gilbert easing up with time to salute the crowd as Rodriguez is hunched over the bike.

cd April 13, 2012 at 4:55 pm

I found this a fun race to watch. Without much effort we saw the race at five different points. Start in Maastricht and then if you hang out drinking in Valkenburg I think it passes another 3 times. Add some bitterballen and you’re set.

Also, the winner only get 16,000 Euros? That seems so little.

The Inner Ring April 13, 2012 at 5:29 pm

The prize money is small but win it and you can add plenty to the salary. Imagine two riders in the breakaway at the end, one might sell it to the other for €100,000, a better indication of the race value. We saw allegations of this in Liège-Bastogne-Liège with Kolobnev and Vinokourov.

Chris April 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Minor correction – Gerrans came third last year not second.

Great preview, with so many potential winners it should be an exciting race!

Pave April 13, 2012 at 5:21 pm

I’m still trying to make sense of what’s going on with Gilbert this year. One argument says that he’s targeting races much later in the season, so he’s logically nowhere near the form he had last year at this particular moment. If that’s the case then, while we all love to see an attacking Gilbert, it makes sense that he’s been invisible. Much of the cycling media seems to ignore that argument (which I thought I heard Gilbert himself make early in the year), and instead to repeat over and over in long articles that the man isn’t even a glimmer of his former self, that maybe last year was a fluke, that he’s not doing something right, yada yada. Perhaps like Haussler, or Boonen in 2009-2011.

Any thoughts or insights?

The Inner Ring April 13, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Some wondered where he could find motivation after last year, it would be impossible to top his spring campaign but his idea was that he wanted to repeat the wins of 2011. It’s not worked, I don’t believe he’s been quiet on purpose. There’s been talk of dental problems, these can have serious consequences with antibiotics, infections and nerve problems. We could speculate more but there’s been surprisingly little attention on him, just observation of his absence and the Belgian media has been able to celebrate with Boonen.

Roadie61 April 14, 2012 at 3:19 am

@Pave: Like INRNG said, I had also read a lot about Gilbert’s tooth infection, initially undiagnosed; during that time he had fevers and a lot of fatigue, par for the course with oral infections. And then the Rx set him back, too, so he was doomed for the first part of Spring by no fault of his own. Losing that valuable time on the bike has cost him form so far, and he’s just recently begun to train hard and get a win under his belt. He did move back to Belgium, which I think was a big plus.

His targets for 2012 were the Spring Classics that he won last year, but his game plan has to change with his form. Amstel Gold will be the first true test of his form after recovering from the whole dental fiasco. Just to make the podium would be quite a feat after the Spring he’s had so far.

Roadie61 April 14, 2012 at 3:22 am

Correction: I meant to say, “…he’s [Gilbert] just recently begun to train hard and will TRY to get a win under his belt.”

tracknut April 13, 2012 at 6:04 pm

You use Holland and the Netherlands interchangeably. Stricly speaking, this race never touches Holland, it is all in Limburg province. Best cycling blog on the web by the way

The Inner Ring April 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Thanks. I think many people outside the country do use the terms interchangeably in English and France. Even if yes, there is a big difference to those in the Netherlands.

Duncan April 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm

I never knew there was a difference. You learn more than one thing a day on this site, thanks.

cinjet April 14, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Holland is actually just the two (North-)Western provinces. It’s actually a funny difference which I have wondered about a few times. When speaking English, most Dutch people do use the words interchangeably, but when speaking Dutch they certainly don’t when speaking about geographical locations!
I doesn’t always matter though. For example, the national cheer (for say, our football team) is “Hup Holland, Hup” (“Go Holland, Go”).

The Inner Ring April 15, 2012 at 12:03 am

The French often talk of “le pays Batave” and “les Bataves”. It’s Betuwe, an even smaller area but the label is applied to all of the Netherlands by many in France.

Rooie April 15, 2012 at 9:54 am

Bataves means batavieren and s the name for a tribe like the kelts, the saxons or the franks. They lived along the river Rijn en Maas and many of their men served under caesar, nero and tiberius as elite troops. The Betuwe has thus been named after the people that lived in the area. Famous for dutchmen is the Bataafse Uprising in 69 ac against the Romans and during the French Revolution, the dutch patriots called themselves Bataves.

Roadie61 April 13, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Would love to see Nibali and heavily-bruised Sagan working like a well-oiled machine, and then Sagan firing those big pistons up the Cauberg! Don’t know if his bruised hip and shoulder will hinder Sunday.

The home teams Rabobank and Vacansoleil will be fighting hard for wins. After seeing Hoogerland fly through barbed-wire and still finish the TDF, I had a new fav to root for…he’s been down with a sore throat the last few days but I’d be stoked to see him get his timing down and take this win! Westra and Poels will be battling for the Dutch, too.

Katusha’s expected to be in the final mix, and seeing Freire turn it on up those hills is always a thrill, though JR should be right there, too.

SKY will be looking for a podium spot after a disappointing P-R; I’ll be looking to see how the young Colombian, Sergio Luis Henao fares on those cold, windy roads in a frantic peloton. Henao was no less than amazing at last year’s Tour of Utah and USA PCC — the kid can climb with the best of ‘em, and at low elevations his lungs and legs should feel pretty darn good. With EBH in there too, SKY should better their showing of last week (nothing taken away from Flecha’s 4th).

Would rather see JJ Rojas podium than Valverde. Movistar should have a good race with their roster.

Team Lotto’s got some heavy hitters for AG who haven’t shown their cards for 2012, other than Greipel and Meersman; without a leader, let’s see who impresses. They’ve got a whole new squad for the Ardennes Classics who have yet to have a good showing in 2012.

Or will we see Sanchez, Gerrans, Evans, Hesjedal or a heavily-marked Gilbert trying desperately to defend his title on the podium? Gilbert is under heavy media pressure, though BMC doesn’t pressure their riders.

All in all, with the winds as a factor, too, this long, hilly race will wear down all but the toughest competitors. Bring it on!

Simma April 13, 2012 at 7:35 pm

no talk of michel kreder? vaughters said the team is riding for him for amstel and has really bigged him up… (and look what that’s done for sep vanmarcke)

The Inner Ring April 13, 2012 at 7:42 pm

He’s having a good season but is untested in such a long race. If he makes the top-10, good for him.

Marco April 13, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Good blog, good review. Looking f0rward to this race. The first race where the classics specialists meet the grand tour specialists.

But I still wonder why people still see the nervosity and the street furniture as the defining aspects of the race.

Yes, the roads are narrow and yes, the route is like a rollercoaster with its twists and turns, but the course isn’t more dangerous or nervous than Flanders or Paris Roubaix. And aren’t the roads and climbs in Italy narrow? As Joost Posthuma said: “Actually, the ‘Amstel’ is not much different from Flanders, there just lie some cobblestones there.”

I dare to say that the roads and street furniture in Flanders is more dangerous than the roads in the AGR.

Chris April 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Good preview.

My money is Sagan. I’m interested to see how he works with Nibali.

Vlaanderen90 April 14, 2012 at 6:32 am

No one has mentioned Visconti yet…he hasn’t been here much but after Klasika Primavera, he and Movistar seem primed for a good showing. Visconti + AV…dangerous tandem.

Jason April 14, 2012 at 10:27 pm

pretty much everything that one needs to know about the amstel gold race is right here in this post. i’m not a fan boy but shit i wish i could articulate detail like that.

jkeltgv April 14, 2012 at 11:40 pm

It’s OK to be a fan boy of Inrng. I dare say I am proud of it! It’s a nice little community here that “proper” forums don’t have with their accusations of “fred”, “fan boy” and “hater”.

So yes, proud to say I am an Inrng fan boy!

JimmyJ April 15, 2012 at 3:14 am

My money (if I had any) would be on Gerrans

Bundle April 15, 2012 at 4:45 am

Will the race be won in the Keutenberg? If so, it will be a tactically interesting finish (“attackulation” might wreck somebody’s “attentisme”). If not, I doubt anyone will be able to follow Purito Rodríguez’ acceleration on the steepest section of the Cauberg (but if someone does, that’s the winner).
NB: Cunego surely has “perpetual” qualities about him… Would be nice to see him win, but I don’t see it happening tomorrow.

GeeTee April 15, 2012 at 5:46 am

Evans will want to place a big hand of authority over the Gilbert/Thor signings at BMC. Either for Amstel or Flech-Wallone, or maybe both – I suspect he’ll go all-out.

Rooie April 15, 2012 at 9:56 am

The one i will have my eye on how he is performng i thomas dekker. He was impressive in circuitde la sarthe and seems to get back i his old form. He wont win, but it would be nice to see him upfront.

LWPenning April 15, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Excellent preview. I have a thing for the Sky riders, Henao and Lars Petter Nordhaug. Gonna be exciting to see how they will react in such a long, windy and exhausting race. Favorite race of the year, no doubts.

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