Amstel Gold Race Preview

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Beer, sunshine and bike racing, all in front of huge crowds. The Amstel Gold Race marks the change from the flat classics to the hillier races and it’s a moment in the year when the likes of Peter Sagan and Alejandro Valverde go head to head. Here’s a race preview with the usual look at the course, contenders, TV times and more.

The Route: 262km and apparently more than 4,000m of vertical gain, impressive for a day’s racing in the Netherlands. It’s all packed into a narrow area and having the route loaded on a GPS device can help racers know which way to turn as the race twists and turns across the Limburg province, as well as a brief visit into Belgium.

In total there are 35 climbs, albeit with some counted two or even three times. Many are not hard, typically a gradient of 5% for a kilometre although a few do have double-digit slopes and the Keutenberg, the nation’s steepest road, maxes at 22% and comes with 29km to go. If one hill climb is fine, 35 hill reps hurt. The vertical gain adds up but it’s the fight to be at the front that really takes its toll, these are narrow climbs that string out the field. Anyone badly placed will waste energy trying to get back up and so they’ll start the next climb in a worse way and so begins the vicious cycle that ruins their chances. All this is made harder by a course packed with street furniture and traffic calming measures to enrage straggling racers.

The Finish: old finish atop the Cauberg hill has long gone, now in 2018 they’ve tweaked it once more with a more twisting approach on smaller roads. Like last year they climb the Cauberg, ride on to the finish line and then do a final lap only this year it dives in and out of small lanes, the idea is to string out what’s left of the race and encourage attacks. After returning to the main road they climb the Bemelerberg (1.3km at 3%, a brief moment at 6%) and turn again after the top into the apple orchards, effectively a short cut to the finish compared to previous years, this road dips down and then rises at around 3% before they reach the main road. The finishing straight is 900 metres long and slightly downhill.

The Contenders
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) rides which given his run of results makes him a candidate for the win. Only as invincible as he’s looked this season he’ll find a course that may not be selective enough for him, he’ll need to get a move and then play with his rival’s nerves.

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Philippe Gilbert won last year and has been in strong form all spring and with his lighter build he ought to find the course to his liking once again and if he wins he’ll match Jan Raas’s record of five wins here although three of these wins were built on his ability to storm up the Cauberg. This time, like last year, he’ll have to be more entrepreneurial. Just because the cobbles are over for the year doesn’t mean Quick Step will stop. Niki Terpstra enjoys a victory lap while Pieter Serry, Enric Mas and Davide Martinelli are all long shots. Julian Alaphilippe has been on the podium in Liège and the Flèche Wallonne and is a prototype rider for the Amstel.

Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) is another prototype rider for this course, at ease on the climbs, able to make attacks and with a powerful sprint. But his presence is likely to deter others, nobody will want to go to the line with him. Plus he recognises that his win rate is not so big, telling Het Nieuwsblad that his father, a butcher, has won more prizes for his sausages, than he has on the road. A touch of modest self-deprecation give he won two Tour de France stages last summer among many more wins and his German/Dutch team will be especially motivated for a home win.

Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) has said the Ardennes races are his clear target for the first half of the season and he’s especially after Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He has won in 2015 and was second last year. For once he looks like Sky’s big shot, especially as local rider Wout Poels returns after his Paris-Nice collarbone break.

BMC Racing bring Dylan Teuns who is in form but translating this into a win is the hard part while Greg Van Avermaet is still searching for a win this season but is now on terrain where people don’t expect as much of him so could have more freedom.

Peter Sagan is the bookmakers’ pick and he’s versatile. But will his heart be in it? If not Bora-Hansgrohe team mate Jay McCarthy has started to find winning ways, he packs a good sprint.

Sonny Colbrelli is an option in case of a sprint, he’s been described here as a budget version of Sagan and it’s meant as a compliment because he can float over short hills than other sprinters cannot. On top of this Bahrain-Merida bring Vincenzo Nibali, the Izagirre brothers and past winner Enrico Gasparotto so they’re bound to weigh on the race.

Michael Albasini (Mitchelton-Scott) always seems to come into form at this time of year where he can target the Ardennes races and then bag stages in the Tour de Romandie. It can’t go on for ever given he’s 37 but he’s wily. Carlos Verona is in great form but the course may not be selective enough while Daryl Impey had a good showing in the Brabantse Pijl and is suited to this race.

Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) used to attack a lot but not win, now he attacks and often wins and has just taken the Brabanste Pijl after a late solo attack and he can play tag team racing with Tiesj Benoot while Jelle Vanendert is another rider who always seems to come to the boil at this time of the year.

UAE-Emirates bring Rui Costa who is often strong but rarely wins while Diego Ulissi‘s form is unknown but he’s an outsider to place. Astana’s Omar Fraile won the Eibar stage of the Tour of the Basque Country, practically the Basque championships and he’s in form but can he exploit the course?

Michał Kwiatkowski, Philippe Gilbert, Michael Matthews
Peter Sagan, Julian Alaphilippe, Alejandro Valverde, Tim Wellens
Sonny Colbrelli, Tiesj Benoot
Rui Costa, Teuns, Albasini, Fraile, Impey

Weather: a calm day of sunshine and clouds and a top temperature of 18°C with a 10-15km/h breeze from the south.

TV: the race starts at 10.30 CEST and the finish is forecast at 5.10pm. It’s on NOS in the Netherlands and then Eurosport across most of Europe and beyond.

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Women’s race: there’s a women’s race on too starting at 10.50 CEST with the finish forecast for 2.05pm. After an all Dutch podium in the Tour of Flanders it’ll be interesting to see what stops Anna van der Breggen again. Dutch channel NOS covering it and now that CyclingTips have wound down their Ella writing if anyone wants to suggest a good preview please leave suggestions in the comments below.

Dougie April 14, 2018 at 4:57 pm

valverde should appear in the 4 stars section

The Inner Ring April 15, 2018 at 10:20 am

He got missed out initially and is back with three chainrings, controversial perhaps but the flat finish isn’t his thing.

philip norton April 14, 2018 at 5:24 pm
The Inner Ring April 15, 2018 at 10:21 am

Thanks for sharing.

Ecky Thump April 14, 2018 at 5:38 pm

I do hope that the Amstel Beer girls have not been erased from the event?

Kit April 15, 2018 at 10:11 am

+1
Long over due!

TDog April 15, 2018 at 3:42 pm

Kit, unless Ecky misspoke, his comment says he likes the Amstel Beer girls. I applaud his candor. Bikes, beer, girls. What is not to like? I am aware of the political incorrectness of the view but am entitled to a view.

Anonymous April 14, 2018 at 5:44 pm

The start list is stacked – the parcours is perfect – this (like last year) could/should be one of the most exciting races of the season. Excite!

The GCW / Strictly Amateur April 14, 2018 at 5:52 pm

valverde often surprises

Lanterne_Verte April 14, 2018 at 5:58 pm

I’m 25% dutch so will be hoping for the first home win since 2001, my pick would have to be Mollema who looked to be coming into form in Pais Vasco/Itzulia and can ride an aggressive race on a good day.

Richard S April 14, 2018 at 7:35 pm

Sagan v Gilbert v Valverde, there’s not much missing from that combined palmares! It seems like an oddity that Valverde has never won this, perhaps the old finish on the Cauberg was better suited to him? And as much as I risk getting caught out saying it surely in a race this hilly if Movistar/Sky/Lotto/Quick Step/Bahrain drive a hard pace on the climbs surely that’ll be enough to shed Sagan? It’s not like a stage race hilly day where there are maybe 4 or 5 climbs, there’s 35! As an outside bet I thought Gasparotto looked in decent nick at Brabantse Pijl, if you can call a two time winner an outsider. From the main favourites I fancy Kwiatkowski.

CA April 14, 2018 at 7:43 pm

I agree, would be tough for Sagan if the pace is high on the climbs. His form must also be at the end of peaking so you expect he will not be able to hold the razor much longer.

I’ve always wondered why Amstel Gold isn’t a Monument. It’s one of the most interesting races on the circuit and really draws in top racers from multiple specialities – one day climbers, one day rouleurs (albeit the smaller ones) and some GC guys. You can’t say that about any other race really.

Richard S April 14, 2018 at 8:03 pm

I don’t know who invented the term monument and why the 5 were settled on. I’d guess Amstel isn’t in because of its relative youth, I think it was started in the 60s. Since the downgrading of Paris-Tours it’s probably the biggest one day race outside of the monuments/worlds.

Watts April 14, 2018 at 9:10 pm

That’s a great question. Who and when did the concept of “monuments” occur?

Please enlighten us in our ignorance INRNG 🙂

Lanterne_Verte April 15, 2018 at 12:42 am

+1
I would love to know if anyone can shed light on this, when did The Monuments first start being referred to as such?

gabriele April 15, 2018 at 1:37 am

Quick search around, a couple of journos in Belgium and France wrote a book on the subject and none of them could trace the origin of the term. The first acknowledgement by the UCI happened in 2010, but the word was around early in the years 2000s. Willy Voet used it, albeit in a less formal way, in his Massacre à la Chain (1999). In Italy it was commonly used – that is, without need of further explanation – in 2004. I’d say that the wording is 15-20 years old. Truth is that from what I recall of the ’90s it was so obvious a concept that it didn’t feel like a specific category was needed… It would be great to gather better information on the topic.

The Inner Ring April 15, 2018 at 10:22 am

I too have been trying to find the first reference to this. I think it dates from the UCI calendar reforms where the press, in particular L’Equipe, wanted to give weight to the five historic one day races above and beyond the other classics, new and old.

gabriele April 15, 2018 at 12:15 am

Yes, it’s because it’s so recent and lived long years when it wasn’t considered important enough.
Even if it must be said that it always had a long and selective course.
However, they struggled to have the best at the start and had to pay Merckx to finally raise the race’s status in 1973. Then, the race had some good years in terms of quality winners, but the field still wasn’t very deep in terms of international interest (few champions from outside Benelux). In the 90s international participation grew but the level of the winners went down again for about a decade, until a series of course changes greatly improved things more or less at the start of the new millenium: they also moved the start to Maastricht, hence with greater focus on the hilllier region, and they introduced the Cauberg finale. In the last 20 years or so it’s really been a great race, but being a Monument implies historical perspective, that is, at least the possibility to compare your palmarés with past champions of pretty much every period of cycling history. The Monuments were always very important, even if in diverse ways. That clearly makes a difference, although the concept of “cycling Monuments” as such became popular in recent years, I think… but I don’t really know where did it come from.

Nick April 15, 2018 at 1:26 am

Were the monuments always that highly regarded? Liege for instance wasn’t included in the first few editions of the Challenge Desgrange-Colombo, whereas Fleche Wallone, Paris-Tours and Paris-Brussels were. I understand that Flanders was also seen as primarily of domestic interest until WW2.

gabriele April 15, 2018 at 2:44 am

@Nick
That what was I meant with “in diverse ways”.

Paris-Bruxelles was highly regarded, but it’s no more nowadays (the last 20 years don’t have the appropriate level, and the race also struggled in the previous 20, after surviving quite well to its interruption from 1967 to 1972)… which creates the same problem as Amstel has about its past. Amstel, in a sense, took Paris-Bruxelles’ place. If one wanted to make all time stats, the two “albi d’oro” could be combined, although it’s a different kind of race.

You’re absolutely right about Flanders and Liège (I think I also had wrote something on the subject some time ago), yet the first foreign winner in Flanders happened as early as 1923, with a good international rider as the Swiss Heiri Suter. Francis Péllissier (brother of the more talented Henri) was racing the year before. Surely most winners were local specialists, but Ronsse, Scheper, Maes, podiuming or winning in the ’30s were recognised international (and not so specialised riders), just as it later was Briek Schotte… even if they were Belgian! In the ’40s the race was already an international reference with Rik I (Belgian but quite universal) or Magni.

The Flèche started in 1936 and the appearance of champions on the podium were more sparse until the late ’40s and early ’50s: even then, it was often won by great riders, sure, but in the final part of their careers. It was regarded more highly than the Liège until the late ’70s.

The Liège had indeed more of a local importance until the ’60s (with international interest starting in the ’50s). Its strong point is the statistical curiosity of its early existence, which could also be debated if one wanted, but mainly the fact that when it was “discovered” by the top riders, the attention of the greatest champions grew in a steadier and faster way than what was happening, say, at the Flèche.

No question can be raised about the two Italian monuments, nor about the Roubaix: the latter was a bit less “international”, but great riders like Garin, Lapize, Garrigou, Thys, Faber, Pellissier fighting for it in the early XX century mean that it was already a great race.

Paris-Tours is one of my favourites and started early with everything needed to become a Monument, great international champions included. However, in the ’30s its importance already started to falter and it had a second-line (albeit still relevant) position until the ’70s. From the early ’50s the organisers tried anything to bring more interest to the race: changing its place in the calendar, changing the course multiple times, forbidding technical options on the bikes…
I think that being part of the Desgrange-Colombo challenge was part of the same idea, but it rarely played a relevant role: the only cyclist who ended up being well-placed both in the race and in the Challenge was De Bruyne in the last two editions of the point competition in 1957-58 (the late position Paris-Tours occupied since 1951 might have been a cause of this lack of tension, like it happened with Lombardia in the World Cup).
In that sense, it’s interesting to observe that the race was moved to the Autumn precisely when the Liège was introduced in the Challenge, in 1951.
The race found a new youth in the mid-70s, along with violent changes in name and course, but then lived many ups and downs. It alternated great winners and mediocre ones well into the years 2000s, even if I’d say that in the last ten years its level has rised and it’s quite good.

Brian April 15, 2018 at 6:01 am

Well, you could say that about Strade Bianche: 1st puncher, 2nd TDF contender, 3rd CX world champion. That’s an interesting podium.

Larry T April 15, 2018 at 8:29 am

PLEASE, no monument inflation. The five are the five and just fine as they are, thank you. Meanwhile, bravo to Inrng for returning to more current topics.

gabriele April 14, 2018 at 11:51 pm

Valverde isn’t as good as one might expect when you need to “limare” (ita), that is, flowing through the bunch saving energies, avoiding crashes, never ever facing the feeblest blow of wind, keeping an advanced enough position but without being noticed. Many would say that it’s a perfect definition of Valverde’s riding style (especially the part re: the wind), but it isn’t. You can often see him in the front part of the group, and if you see him it’s because he’s not covering himself enough. He tends to adopt a passive riding style, but he does that shutting down moves or holding the wheel of his teammates on the very front, which is more expensive than one would think. All the same, from time to time you can find him too far back in the bunch when the course is too twisty, hence getting cut out in case of crashes. Which is the main reason he never did great at the Sanremo. And the greater need to behave properly under this respect is one of the main differences between Amstel and the rest of the Ardennes races. Amstel is also way more strategic than Flèche (and it could prove so even with the finish line on the Cauberg), and a bit more than Liège, especially given the involution of the latter. And complicated strategies are another little problem for Alejandro.
All that said, at least the race altimetry is hugely suited to him: in fact, the guy made 5/11 top tens, three of which were podia (twice runner-up). I mean, he’s performing good and might just need a bit of luck. The above just explains why he isn’t a killer-serial-winner like in Liège/Flèche.
Besides, maybe he simply isn’t as motivated, and we shouldn’t forget that it’s not as easy as it could be supposed to bring the form and the concentration through the whole week. Classics are way harder in physical and psychological terms than GT stages: he clearly focuses on the two later races and probably isn’t ready to go as deep as he ought to.

I think that Sagan’s problem might be his form rather than the hills. He was 3rd in 2012 (he participated from 2011 to 2013), but he barely had raced the previous two weeks, after a Flanders top 5. It’s very hard to go into the Ardennes after a heavy-loaded cobbles campaign (just look how relatively spent GVA did look last year, in comparison with his dominant attitude). This year, there’s a question mark about his actual form: did he willingly delay it, when compared to previous seasons? In that case, he could benefit from a late peak, at least if he didn’t celebrate too much after the Roubaix.
Pushing him above his limits on the hills is surely an option, but… did you see him on the Filottrano wall? Yates beat him, but the rest of puncheur and climbers were left behind. And the stage wasn’t easy, either. It had 5 GPM, indeed, but only because many minor climbs – which would be counted as côtes or bergs – weren’t considered as such. Same goes for last year’s Fermo stage which he won. They were pretty much hard contested. And what about Porto S. Elpidio in 2013 (I’m always speaking of the Tirreno not to take into account TdF form or specific preparation)? The stage which cost so much to Froome – Sagan won it. Three “categorised climbs”, but 20 to 27 of them if you use the Amstel criterion.
Sure, another question raised by his Spring might be if he gained some weight in order to better face Roubaix. That wouldn’t help much, now.

Richard S April 15, 2018 at 8:58 am

I don’t know if it’s a trick of the light, or maybe because white isn’t a very ‘slimming’ colour, but I think Sagan looks much bulkier than in his early Cannondale days. He might not be, or the increase in power might make up for it.

gabriele April 15, 2018 at 11:46 am

I think he sure is, but the examples I quoted show that his capabilities didn’t change much, probably because of the reason you cite.
I can add that he’s been looking bulkier than his first season for some years, now: nevertheless, he’s still been winning races like Québec (some 30 climbs to tackle, 3000m altitude gain), besides very complicated stages at the TdF, TdS and Tirreno.
That said, in my last sentence about weight I’m indeed referring to this specific season – after all, the Filottrano stage was easier than the previous ones and Sagan didn’t actually win it. Uraidla was in the season build-up and doesn’t tell so much. We’ll soon know more.

Larry T April 16, 2018 at 10:17 am

“Let them eat! Introduce a minimum body weight. Then they will be attractive to watch again, and they will last more than one month a year. One of our L’Eroica mantras is: “From heroic cycling to the sweet life,” when cyclists were good-looking sex symbols, not to be pitied, like anorexic models or patients suffering from a chronic illness, queuing up for a drip.”
Giancarlo Brocci – founder of L’Eroica
I think Sagan fits into Brocci’s idea – perhaps this has something to do with his popularity worldwide?

CA April 16, 2018 at 3:53 pm

Haha, I know, I think Froome’s nickname should be Chicken Britain or something. He’s skinnier than Rasmusen.

Bob April 14, 2018 at 8:11 pm

Didn’t GVA have a stage win in Oman this season? So he isn’t winless. Great preview as always

Watts April 14, 2018 at 9:07 pm

Thank you for the preview, couldn’t agree more.

Except that Michael Valgren needs to crash to not get into the top10 in my opinion. We will see

Classicismo April 14, 2018 at 11:04 pm

What a childish post.
Why would you wish a crash on a rider?

Lord Flash April 15, 2018 at 12:06 am

You’re misreading. He’s not wishing a crash, he’s actually making a compliment

Watts April 15, 2018 at 8:34 am

I just mean that I believe he is a contender, unless he chrashes. He was second in 2016, and looks strong this spring.

Lord Flash April 16, 2018 at 12:42 pm

Nice prediction 🙂

John I April 15, 2018 at 5:14 pm

Chapeau. He pulled it off.

Michael B April 15, 2018 at 5:46 pm

Hat-tip on your prediction, another great win for Valgren. He times his attacks so well, even his first today about 10km from the end which didn’t work was a great time to go. Amstel, Omloop and fourth at Flanders. Does this put Valgren into Sagan, GVA, Gilbert territory when it comes to 2019 predictions? What a season.

ECNielsen April 16, 2018 at 11:38 am

It probably doesn’t, but he definitely deserves to enter the conversation more often.
The way he and Fuglsang played off of each other was a sight to behold

Sam Y April 15, 2018 at 2:58 am

Surely Nathan Haas gets a look-in? Although he had a tough TDU and hasn’t shown much, he seems to be improving year on year and there’s an interesting article over on Cycling Tips highlighting his motivation for Amstel

SuperDom April 15, 2018 at 7:15 am

He’s under the weather.

The Inner Ring April 15, 2018 at 10:23 am

Exactly. It could be a giant bluff as he really wants this race one day but he says he’s ill and will ride to help his team mates.

Kit April 15, 2018 at 10:14 am

Great preview. Looking forward to it; hope to get out and see it live one day…

I’m backing Wellens for the win.

Anonymous April 15, 2018 at 11:02 am

Im hoping for the benoot-wellens combo.

Toby April 15, 2018 at 11:19 am

When is Sagan’s heart ever not in a race? I have seen it once: Frankfurt last year. Otherwise he is always doing his utmost to win.

Don’t confuse his character off the bike with the rider.

Matt D April 15, 2018 at 1:20 pm

I love a recent quote from an interview yesterday

Q Maybe you have an idea of what you can do… you were second last year ….what do you think you can do tomorrow
A Sometimes it’s better – just don’t think and just do it

Tricky Dicky April 15, 2018 at 12:31 pm

An acquaintance of mine has won both this race and LBL. Funnily enough he just never mentions this race as a “highlight” of his career (and yet bizarrely reminds me he once won the “Wincanton Classic” (good heavens)). It shows how much this race has grown since late 80s / early 90s – when it seems the pros didn’t really rate it – in response to some of the queries above.

gabriele April 15, 2018 at 1:41 pm

He’s obviously Van Lancker, isn’t he? Wincanton wasn’t bad at all, judging by its albo d’oro.
The ’80s were still a period when Amstel didn’t matter much, as you say: national riders were nearly the only ones really going hard for it, which means that the best among them gave some lustre to the race with their victories (Raas, Knetemann, Rooks, Nijman, van der Poel). International champions rarely showed up and more often than not without much commitment (even if there are a handful of notable exceptions).
The main menace for Van Lancker in 1989 was Criquelion, who was already closing to the end of his career – it’s the third-to-last year he went on racing – but was still in very good conditions (he won the Flèche and made a Giro top-ten that year).
Some 20 kms to the line, Van Lancker was on the front with Bauer while the group, still relatively big, didn’t look like they really wanted to chase (that’s what I more or less can see on video, it’s not like I really know it ^__^). Suddenly, Criquelion put in a strong attack, perhaps remembering the Renaix events – there was still a sue going on!
Verhoeven, a gregario for Rooks and Kelly, was sent behind him, while Gianetti also closed in to cover Bauer. Up front, Van Lancker dropped Bauer, while Criquelion, who was the only one working, attacked the small group, which, anyway, came together, Bauer included, before the line, which Van Lancker had crossed solo less than 20″ before. The funny thing is that Bauer sprinted again Criquelion… luckily, keeping his distance. The Belgian won by a few cms, thus being runner-up, and Bauer made the podium.
You can see how the peloton wasn’t exactly on fire, some 60 men crossed the line pretty much together some 2′ later. And you can also see how they behaved, the break was at shooting distance (Criquelion alone caught Bauer and came close to Van Lancker) and they didn’t care. And it’s not like Van Lancker’s Panasonic or Bauer’s Helvetia were huge teams, either, like creating a pressure over the rest not to chase. More sort of a no contest between the big guns.

ZigaK April 15, 2018 at 12:59 pm

Eric Van Lancker?

Ecky Thump April 15, 2018 at 5:38 pm

What happened to Sagan there?
Was he cooked or was it one of those bizarre “I’m not chasing” moments?

Michael B April 15, 2018 at 5:49 pm

I think he didn’t want to take it all on with an obviously strong Valverde doing his usual wheel sucking routine. And Kreuziger is an ex-teammate which maybe influenced his thinking in terms of not chasing? Sagan won the group sprint so he still had something in reserve.

Michael B April 15, 2018 at 5:52 pm

I think Sagan’s right to let the odd one go, especially in races like Amstel or Omloop, just to show he can’t be leaned on every time. Maybe different if it was the final 5km at Flanders or Roubaix though.

gabriele April 15, 2018 at 7:03 pm

He sure wasn’t unhappy with Kreuziger going. And Valgren was also on Peter’s team, racing for him from the TdF on in 2016 or in TdS and TdF in 2015. Not a regular, but somebody he might remember about ^__^

CA April 15, 2018 at 6:25 pm

I bet Sagan was royally cooked. The repeated climbs would have done a number on him and his peak form has been stretched pretty thin at this point. Just my guess.

gabriele April 15, 2018 at 6:51 pm

Both.

If he was *that* fresh, he’d chase (why not? A sprinter like him isn’t afraid, not even by far, of Valverde or Alaphilippe on a flattish finishing straight, a good recovery time away from the previous ramps).

But it sure wasn’t like that he was so cooked that he wasn’t able to do anything else but sit and let ’em go. Especially Kreuziger and Gasparotto. He saw he had to go quite hard and decided to play a different hand.

PS To me, Valverde looked slightly more generous than usual, unlike Alaphilippe (reportedly recovering from a light illness) or Wellens – all relative, of course. What’s sure is that Sagan was being forced to take the lion’s share of turns, which is at the same time perfectly normal (I don’t think Valverde, the 2nd fastest guy, ever beat Sagan in a sprint, unless it was uphill, so…) – and unsettling for the lion in question.

Michael B April 15, 2018 at 7:35 pm

Yeah, Valverde isn’t afraid of hitting the front but its usually on uphill sections where he can turn the screw and others don’t benefit from a draft quite so much. Occasionally downhill as well as his descending skills are great and he gets a clean line. But when he’s on the flat he doesn’t stick his nose in the wind. Smart racing really, it’s up to his rivals to outmanoeuvre him in relation to that.

CA April 15, 2018 at 6:05 pm

What a race! I understand from the comments above that this race may not always have been the most prestigious, but in 2018 that must have been one of the best races of the season. The variety, type and quality of rider that was in for the win today is tough to match for any of the Monuments or even World Championships.

Michael B April 15, 2018 at 6:11 pm

Agreed. Tweaking the course has made a huge difference – this used to be my least favourite one day classic but it’s been one of the best for the past two years.

gabriele April 15, 2018 at 6:34 pm

But do you *really* think that at the Worlds Sagan – or any of the others – wouldn’t even *try* to follow Kreuziger or, at least, the last minute move by Gasparotto? Well, maybe Valverde wouldn’t, yet the rest…
It’s not like you don’t bluff in bigger races (maybe it just what Sagan himself did at the Sanremo), it’s more about being less probable that, at the end of the day, from that sort of selected group you end up picking up those final three names (by the way, all great riders, IMHO, but not the sort which would fill up a full Monument podium – even if Valgren has still got a brilliant future to further raise his status).
However, the Amstel confirms an historical trend: it’s for intelligent riders who can pick the moment.
Don’t get me wrong: splendid race, I loved it (it was just great when *three* moves came together in the finale and it was all about trading turns or attacks, with the chasers often not far back). And, well, no need to convince *me* that a well-designed course matters a lot.

Michael B April 15, 2018 at 7:32 pm

Maybe you’re right that it isn’t about the size of the race, as people still bluff at Flanders etc, but from Sagan’s perspective it’s about predictability. Other riders have to know they won’t get a free draft to the sprint every single time so that means Sagan has to be willing to lose in order to win at other times.

gabriele April 15, 2018 at 7:39 pm

I don’t know if there was a problem of misundersting, but I obviously agree with you.
And it’s even more so in a Classic which, albeit *very* important, many – Sagan included – feel they can lose.

Michael B April 15, 2018 at 7:41 pm

Think I misread, yes, agree with what you’re saying for sure.

Alex April 15, 2018 at 6:42 pm

I liked the course and it was a good race until the favorites just decided to let the guy in the goofy helmet go and win the thing. Two similar race wins for the Danish mushroom.

Watts April 16, 2018 at 10:18 am

This is a bikerace. These 10 guys in the final are there because they are the strongest – or did the rest of the peloton also “just decide to let them go”?

Even though Sagan, Valverde and the other favourites are strong doesn’t mean that they can just decide to pull a rider like Valgren back. This group had been punished by Fuglsang in particular, but also Valgren himself with his first move. They were all on their limit. Valgren went on a slight uphill where you really need to push the pedals, not by some freak chance.

A rider who wins Omloop and gets 4th in Flanders this year is not someone you “just let go”, the others know this. The winner was the strongest rider of the day, but also the smartest. I think you should appreciate this win as good bike racing instead of talking it down. Because this Valgren is going to win more classics like this in the future 🙂 Same method – by riding faster than the others in the final. And if he keeps that up, then you might want to re-evaluate if the others are really “just letting him go”.

No hate, I’m just saying it’s a good win. Let’s be happy that we got a good race.

Tom April 16, 2018 at 4:33 pm

“Let’s be happy that we got a good race.”

i.e. Valverde didn’t win 🙂

J Evans April 15, 2018 at 9:44 pm

Valgren’s good tactically – Sagan, Alaphilippe and Valverde still aren’t (despite their combined years of experience). When Gasparotto went to chase Kreuziger and Valgren, why would you not go on his wheel? It makes sense not to be the one to chase the two in front, but when someone does chase, can anyone explain to me why it’s a good idea not to take their wheel? Seemed more ego than anything else: ‘I’m too cool and relaxed to chase’. (How many Amstels has Valverde thrown away like this? And Sagan would probably have won had he followed Gasparotto. And Alaphilippe still has no major wins so he can’t afford to mess about like this.)

Anonymous April 16, 2018 at 12:20 am

“When Gasparotto went to chase Kreuziger and Valgren, why would you not go on his wheel?”

Because if you do then likely so does everyone else. Then Gasparotto’s countermove likely either dies or one of your opponents uses it as a slingshot to counter the countermove and possibly get across himself. You hope to be the guy doing the counter-counter after an opponent has done you the service of closing to Gasparotto and Gasparotto has done you the service of getting closer to Valgren and Kreuziger.

AK April 15, 2018 at 10:34 pm

I get the feeling sometimes that people read a lot of tactics into what I just see as natural variability. I think Sagan was just too cooked to pull back Valgren. Ir maybe even Gasparotto, though the realization that Gasparotto would not pull him to the line may have been a factor in deciding not to chase. Yes, normally he is the better rider but nobody is on top form every day. Just look at guys that surely would have wanted to win but were dropped, like Kwiatkowski or Gilbert. I don’t think Sagan is the type who would throw away a win at an important race just to show his competitors that he does not always want to pull at the front. Because if he would have been strong enough today to match that acceleration of Valgren no wheelsucking by Valverde or Gasparotto could have helped them beat Sagan in a flat sprint and he knows that. The other side of natural variability: Riesebeek, all day at the front and still able to hanng with the front group while great champions get left behind. Sometimes, things just work, sometimes they don’t.

CA April 15, 2018 at 11:22 pm

Totally agree – I suspect Sagan was completely cooked. Even Valverde knows that the real race is still the upcoming Monument so perhaps this played a factor into his not chasing. It’s tough to quantify, but going too far into your reserves for one race can significantly affect your performance in the 1-2 weeks to come sometimes.

Sagan may still have been cooked from last weekend too.

J Evans April 15, 2018 at 11:25 pm

Sagan had looked a bit weak, albeit only one climb, but Alaphilippe and Valverde hadn’t. I don’t really buy that none of those three (they all did the same thing, no reason to focus on Sagan) could follow Gasparotto.
Sometimes it’s the riders who are bravest who win.

gabriele April 16, 2018 at 12:34 am

Yeah, but it was pretty clear that Gilbert and Kwiatkwo weren’t on top form or on their best day, while the only sign we got that Sagan was cooked was the move we’re debating about. It’s sort of begging the question, isn’t it?

To support that, you’d need other evidence that he was cooked: the simple fact that he didn’t chase in that moment, without otherwise looking especially cooked, leaves room for the hypothesis that he decided not to chase, full stop.

As I said, I believe that he wasn’t precisely fresh, not at all, but it wasn’t like he couldn’t jump, rather being a bit tired led him to make that choice, that is, hoping that it all would come down to a sprint without him pulling the rest to the line; whereas if you feel great or go all in you obviously jump on every move, irrespective of what may happen.

Sagan blames the Roubaix effort and the excessive gap conceded to the morning break; his DS, the fact that he was the main force in the selected group, closing on every attempt and being next to the only one pulling to keep a decent pace; Wellens and Gasparotto support the “cat & mouse theory”.
Gasparotto: “When the attacked I immediately looked at both Peter Sagan and Alejandro Valverde and when I realized that they would not pursue them,” Gasparotto explained. “I thought I had to try to follow them because I would have surely lost at the bunch sprint.”
Wellens: “I am happy with the way the race developed and with how I felt, but I am disappointed with the final result,” Wellens said. “We bridged to the front group with six riders, after jumping away from the group of favourites. A bit later we were left with eight at the front. Then it became a cat-and-mouse game”
“We all attacked in turn and then you need to be lucky that there is some hesitation at the moment that you go. That didn’t happen when I attacked, but it did happen when Valgren and Kreuziger attacked and that marked the decisive moment”.

Ecky Thump April 16, 2018 at 2:54 am

My immediate reaction was that Sagan chose not to follow.
He was looking like a Rolls Royce up to that point but chose to finish like a Lada.

I do know, however, that 4000m of ascent is not enough to see him off.
What may happen if he trimmed his weight and he turned up in Austria weighing 60 something kgs?

Richard S April 16, 2018 at 9:07 am

I’ll tell you one thing, if I had £10 for every time Sagan rode to the front of a group and then slowed down and turned to look at those behind him I’d be posting this from a yacht in Monaco. My opinion is that Sagan is poor tactically, or rather poor from a small group where he is expected to contribute as you often get at the end of a classic. It’s my impression that he wins either through sheer strength and superiority on his own (Flanders, Roubaix, Richmond) or from a big group where a few teams/rider are working and he doesn’t have to do a turn (later two worlds, several other races!). From small groups he either lets someone ride off or gets gazumped by a Kwiatkowski or Van Avarmart. I certainly didn’t get the impression that Sagan didn’t win because of any physical tiredness or lack of strength. He and Valverde were clearly the two strongest riders in the finale. The way Valverde breezed up one of the final climbs seemingly breathing out of his ears to bridge up to I think Gasparotto’s first attempt at a break was incredible.

Ecky Thump April 16, 2018 at 10:19 am

Ha!
I know that you’re no fan of Sagan, Richard, whilst I very much am, so we need to try to remain objective here if possible!
Valverde had plenty left and was not helping out much, Gabriele notes above that Wellens expressed disappointment afterwards so he must have had something left too.
The Astana boys had their own agenda, so fair enough, and Gasparotto gets a bye too; the others could and should have followed his attempt to bridge to Valgren.
I’ll meet you half way in your criticism of Sagan, he looked strong but wasn’t willing to tow Valverde and Wellens?
In the past he’s had to deal with super strong teams like Quick Step etc with minimal help but his Bora team-mates did a great job for him yesterday and, if I were one of them, I’d feel a little let down that my leader hadn’t just gone for it at the end.

Richard S April 16, 2018 at 10:54 am

Whilst I’m not a fan of Sagan per se I was very impressed with his performance. Not many people will win Roubaix effectively from 50k out and then go to Amstel Gold and look like the strongest rider in that too. The people who you’d think might be able to do that – Gilbert, van Avarmaet and Kwiatkowski – were comprehensively in his wake, in Gilbert and GVA’s case for the 2nd weekend in a row. He looked extremely strong and I suppose that makes his looking around and not following seem all the stranger. On the basis of yesterday I’d be tempted to get him in L-B-L just to see where his limits are!

J Evans April 16, 2018 at 11:10 am

Sagan does have the habit of coming to the front and slowing down. It always leaves me thinking ‘Come to the front, do your turn – not too hard – and then flick your elbow in the hope that others will take their turn’, but he so often doesn’t do that, instead killing his pace entirely. This makes others think that he’s playing games and so they don’t want to take their turn. It seems counter-productive to his own goals.
That said, Val and Ala looked as strong as him and rode the same way as he did. I thought Val should have gone full gas on the final climb in the hope of dropping everyone, as he (and possibly Ala) seemed the strongest on a previous climb – although the final climb was perhaps not testing enough.

Ecky Thump April 16, 2018 at 11:51 am

Yes, I’d forgotten about Alaphilippe, lurking quietly at the back of the ‘koplopers’.
Valverde, Wellens and Alaphilippe – expecting Sagan to do the donkey work in the closing stages of Amstel?
Pah.

CA April 16, 2018 at 5:35 pm

Sagan’s not the first speedy rider to soft pedal through their turn in the rotation. It’s a tactic – I’m not arguing on its merits, but it is often used.

At Amstel, Sagan’s goose was cooked… he just doesn’t show it. He knew that there was no tomorrow, so really he had nothing to lose by marking every move, but all those hills after being at or near peak fitness for 4-6 weeks really bites. Same thing for Gilbert, GVA and Kwiat.

who April 16, 2018 at 4:24 am

A great race imo.
As former winners of the Amstel it seems the specifics of this race suits Kreuzinger and Gasparotto in some way more then any other race. So I would not so much attribute the endresult to weakness or errors of other riders but more to the specific qualities of Kreuziger and Gasparotto (and also Valgren).

AP April 16, 2018 at 7:31 pm

Looks like Katie Hopkins between Kwiatkowski and Matthews.

Nick April 15, 2018 at 7:20 pm

One test might be whether any fuss was made when Rik II became the first to win all 5, or whether he was just seen as having won 5 of the Classics? Or even when Merckx or RdV did?

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