Giant crowds, 34 climbs and a brewery as race sponsor, what’s not to like about the Amstel Gold Race?
This is a very different race to the ones we’ve seen in recent weeks. Born in 1966 it is the newest of the spring classics and defined by suburban roads instead of medieval farm tracks. It marks a change in the season where stage race specialists compete alongside one day specialists.
Here’s the preview with the riders, the route, the TV timings, beer, weather and more.
Most think the Netherlands is a flat country. They’re right, one quarter of the country sits below sea level. Still, look at the map above and you’ll notice that finger of land poking south. It’s here you find hills and the mighty Vaalserberg. At 322 metres above sea level it’s as high as the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
The route has evolved over the years but 2014 is the same as 2013 and includes the displaced finish further up the road from the Cauberg climb. The race will pass the finish line three times during the day before a final charge to the line.
Otherwise the tradition continues with the start in Maastricht and then the race seeks out every slope possible during the 251km course. In total there are 34 climbs but some of these are repeated. Individually each of the 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% and comes with 30km to go. It’s the accumulation of these climbs is something else, they become very selective after five hours of racing.
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. It’s neither legendary nor romantic but for the a rider it’s equally dangerous.
The Netherlands is Europe’s most densely-populated country with 394 people per square km. In second place comes Belgium (344 per km²) and Holland is more than 50% more dense than third placed Britain (246 per km²). Open space is at a premium and wilderness doesn’t exist. At times it resembles an endless suburbia, a street furniture catalogue. There are still pastures and open country… but not for long. There are many traffic calming measures. These are designed make motorists brake 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 the bunch stretches like an accordion with everyone trying to peer ahead to spot obstacles.
Crest a hill and as you can see above the bunch is lined out, it’s hard to move up a few places on the descent and harder still to pass on the narrow climbs. The better you are going, the easier it is.
The race climbs the Cauberg, 1500m long and 4.7% but with steeper earlier sections maxing at 12% and to pass the finish line, descend and then climb the Bemelerberg (1.3km at 3%, a short moment at 6%) before descending to Valkenburg to start the Cauberg again and then 1.8km to the line.
Alejandro Valverde is the prime pick. Second last year and the course suits him well. But he’s been riding a peak of form since mid-February and one that’s seen him race hard and often and it’ll be interesting to see if he can sustain it until now. He’s been going hard at it for a long time, witness his efforts in the Strade Bianche and the following day’s win in Roma Maxima. But all this is testimony to his versatility and the Amstel course is ideal.
Is Philippe Gilbert back to his best? No. Sure he won the Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday but his golden 2011 season saw him winning regularly from February onwards and across all types of terrain. But he’s certainly back in business and confidence matters. Team mate Greg Van Avermaet took a hit in Paris-Roubaix but is said to have recovered and this is an ideal race for him too.
Michał Kwiatkowski showed good form in the Tour of the Basque Country and even scrapping for stage wins and places with some sprints. It looked a touch futile but it will have made him even sharper for this weekend’s race. He’s backed by Wout Poels who was climbing with the best in the Basque Country too.
Geraint Thomas continues his spring campaign. He made the front group to Roubaix which is worth plenty alone and here he’s got a course that’ll suit his lighter build. One dark horse is Sky’s Ben Swift. Faster than the rest in the Basque Country he’ll find the hills here to his advantage. I don’t think he can go with a lot of moves if the likes of Valverde and Gilbert start their work from a far but if a group of 20-30 riders is left he could well clean up.
Simon Gerrans (Orica-Greenedge) has been on the podium before and comes with a strong team where Michael Matthews could win too. Don’t forget Damiano Cunego. The Little Prince is a former winner of this race and suddenly came out of exile in the Basque Country to remind many of his existence. Europcar have Thomas Voeckler as a wildcard to play and he’s coming into form now. They also have Yukiya Arashiro who seems as strong as he’s ever been while Bryan Coquard is going to play for the sprint but he might find the distance too long. Ag2r have Romain Bardet who first appeared in this race after going in the morning break in 2012 and surviving longer than the rest, now he’s aiming for success in the Ardennes; team mate Carlos Betancur has been ill and is said to be still riding into form.
Local hopes rest on Tom Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp) but I think the punchy Dutchman’s better suited to racing the upcoming Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège instead of this flatter finish. The same applies to Belkin’s Bauke Mollema who is ably backed by Lars Petter Nordhaug. Giant-Shimano is a Dutch team but German rider Simon Geschke and Belgian Dries Devenyns are their best bets; they’re in form but rarely win.
Skipping back to Garmin-Sharp, Nathan Haas has been targetting this race, a result would be a huge leap in performance but he’s coming into form.
Last year’s winner Roman Kreuziger could do the double but he half sneaked away last year and this time he’ll be well-marked.
My dark horse is Nicolas Roche, 125-1 in the bookmakers but more than capable on a hilly circuit.
Some other riders of interest include Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali who’s meant to be building form for a mini-peak at the Tour de Romandie; he needs a win to ease some pressure and comes with a decent team with Lieuwe Westra and former Amstel winner Enrico Gasparotto. Rui Costa’s had a string of second places this year and could be a useful tandem with Diego Ulissi, the Italian is the prototype rider for this course but his form’s unknown. Joaquim Rodriguez probably won’t find the race hilly enough but could be in the mix while Katusha team mate Alexander Kolobnev usually emerges at this time of year.
Wanty-Gobert’s Bjorn Leukemans is the form pick and a past top-10 finisher in this race but almost never wins anything. Finally Lotto-Belisol have Tony Gallopin, third in Brabant and all the more impressive because he had a late puncture and made it back. He’s got a fast finish but can he overcome the team’s bad luck?
|Michał Kwiatkowski, Philippe Gilbert|
|Greg Van Avermaet|
|Geraint Thomas, Simon Gerrans, Michael Matthews|
|Gallopin, Voeckler, Haas, Nordhaug, Swift, Kreuziger, Costa, Ulissi|
Damp and cool conditions. There will be rain showers and a top temperature of 17°C.
There will be three hours of live TV coverage. Local coverage starts from host broadcaster NOS starts at 1.15pm Euro time whilst Eurosport go on air with live images from 2.15pm onwards. The action is normally concentrated in the final hour and the finish is expected for 4.40pm.
As usual there will be pirate internet video feeds for viewers around the world. See cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv.
Flat out in the Netherlands
The Netherlands might sit in northern Europe and find its landscape and climate defined by the North Sea but the Limburg province of the Netherlands is unique with its hills and a milder climate. In other words what you seen on TV is very different from the rest of the country.
Talk of Dutch cycling on here usually means Belkin and Giant-Shimano but the country is famous for cycling as transport as well as sport. No other country in the world uses the bicycle as much for travel. The car remains the most popular mode of transport but the bike is not far behind and the average Dutch citizen rides 909km a year helped by excellent infrastructure – heated bike lanes – and the sheer banality of cycling. It’s what everyone does.
First run in 1966, this is the most 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.
Amstel is a brand of beer belonging to the Heineken International, the world’s third largest brewer and owner of brands like Morreti, Murphy’s, Tiger, Żywiec and more. On the day the giant crowds seem have spent the afternoon sampling the beverage and there’s a lively vibe.
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Rodriguez was runner up to Gilbert in 2011 but the addition of the flat section after the Cauberg probably makes him a less likely winner. It would be nice to see Kwiatkowski win – the parcours suits his style of riding.
Inrng is right, as usual – the ubiquitous street furniture and speed bumps (dremples) are a real danger on narrow roads. Elsewhere some of the surfaces are a little rough – the Gulpenerberg springs to mind. The wind is predicted to be force 4 from the North East which will make it hard riding across the higher ground on the plateau but will be a tailwind down the home stretch. Should be a good race, though Amstel is nowhere near as good as the Belgian beers!
Great review but have to object to this.
The Netherlands is one of the most beautiful and green countries that I have visit, very organized and even small villages don’t get swallowed by big cities. There isn’t much wilderness, but lots of rural landscape (fields, canals and small forests). Not suburbian at all to me
It is scenic but it’s more that every open space has little suburban features like lights, signs, hothouses etc.
In that case, you haven’t seen the Randstad: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randstad
This agglomeration in the central western area of the Netherlands contains about 45% of our population, on an area that is about 20% of our country. Keep into account that we are already one of the most densely populated countries and that the center of the Randstad area is purposely held rural (called ‘The Green Heart’) and you can imagine that the rest of the Randstad is almost a neverending chain of cities and suburbs.
Given the fact that almost half of our population lives in the Randstad, the rest of the Netherlands is indeed relatively empty. So if you were to ask a random Dutchman if where he lives there is lots of open space and wilderness, you have a very high chance that his answer is No. If however you are the kind of tourist that doesn’t just come to our country to visit Amsterdam but visits each region equally then you are completely correct.
Sorry, but there is not wilderness in the Netherlands. None. There are rural areas, and the Netherlands is amazingly green, with great care and concern placed on the environment. There are beautiful farming villages and incredible parks (Hoge Veluwe!), but Inrng is correct, there is no wilderness. Perhaps this is a translation issue.
Yes, by wilderness I mean wild open spaces. It’s true this might not exist when you cycle through the Pyrenees because you are on a road but apart from the tarmac there is no other sign of human interference.
But as others say it’s still scenic in the Netherlands in a tidy and compact way, humans have often exploited the landscape well rather than ruined it.
It’s normal that there is not much wilderness to find in a country, which would be actually half part of North Sea without massive flood control. The sea is the original wilderness there 😉
Roche is an interesting ‘dark horse’ pick but I cannot remember any performance by him this year (good or bad). He has been truly anonymous in the pack. Curses aside, I would think Rui Costa would merit 2-3 rings on this course. He could follow on the Cauberg and outkick most in a small group.
The Netherlands may be much denser than Britain as a whole, but England has apparently overtaken it at 395/km2. Plenty of road furniture here too!
Somebody who’s been previously anonymous this year for the win, I reckon.
There’s always a lot of discussion about riding the Belgian courses, but less so about the Ardennes classics routes. Anyone ridden the LBL route, for example? Any reason why these wouldn’t be fantastic rides?
Certainly Liège-Bastogne-Liège has some great roads. The Amstel is nice but concentrated in a very small space, the race doubles back and uses the same roads again and again, so you can do all the key climbs on a much shorter route.
The AGR route is permanently signposted and different loops can be ridden depending on how long you want to make the ride. I did an LBL ‘toertocht’ in 2012, and there are many to choose from aside from the ‘official’ sportive ride. LBL was fantastic – great weather on the day and a great ride; I did the full 245km in just around 9hrs. The quality of road surface in Belgium does often leave much to be desired though.
From what I’ve heard the slightly adjusted ride Tilff-Bastogne-Tilff is better. But that was for organizational reasons mostly.
Brilliant preview as ever!
one remark tough, to me INRG’s race pick’s appear to be slightly shifted towards Anglo Pro’s.
Seems strange to read about Swift, Hansen, Matthews, Gerrans and Thomas (my guess: we wont see any of those in the Top10) etc. without mentioning F. Schleck for example…
But let’s continue on this Sunday evening 🙂
You might have had a point until you came up with a Schleck as an alternative, which nearly made me spit coffee.
No space here for Jakob Fuglsang. You say that Nibali is riding towards his peak form and maybe not targeting AGR, so who do Astana go with, Bozic? Must have a plan B if a bunch isn’t coming to the finish. For me, Fuglsang is the joker to watch for
There are many climbs, no mountains, but as you say the accumulation of climbing makes the selection in the end. So where can I find out how many meters of accumulated climbing there are in a race like Amstel or Flanders? I can’t find it on the race web-site? When I sign up for local races around Girona you always get this info. For example, it’s a tougher course doing 130 km with 2600 meters of accumulated climbing, than doing 200 km if the climbing only accumulates to 1500 m. Just an example, but for me to know how many meters they have to ascend in total would be a meaningful information.
On the race website, it says “The Amstel Gold Race runs a total of 251 km. There are 33 climbs on the route which together make up over 4000m of climbing.”
Correct, it’s about 4,000 vertical metres. Note the website says “33 climbs” but it lists the 34 ascensions, it seems not to count the final time up the Cauberg.
I get it, thanks.
It would be great to know the vertical climb for all the one day races. How does MSR, LBL and Amstel Gold compare, for example.
You might call this race “The Cauberg Gold” instead of Amstel (but you’d lose a valuable sponsor..). The strongest rider up the Cauberg in the end will be the winner. Personally, I like to follow riders who are going to be the main contenders at the Giro: Cunego, Roche, Dan Martin etc. but of course specialists like Gilbert and Valverde will be very hard to beat.
Actually the ‘Gold’ in the name is also part of the sponsor: Amstel Gold is a brew under the Amstel brand.
The Amstel Gold brew was once a premium beer but it’s now quite dated and relatively unpopular (and as a result also quite unknown). The brew would probably not exist anymore if it weren’t for the association with the race, and the fact that any more modern beer brew would probably make the race sound bad (Just ask anyone in Flanders what they think of the name Omloop het Nieuwsblad).
There’s a nice Dutch article on it, the background would definitely have been INRNG-preview-worthy, so it’s a good read 😉
Indeed you don’t see Amstel Gold a lot these days and it doesn’t look like Amstel is trying to use the race to promote it. But since ‘gold’ has anice ring to it and is associated with winning it still works. Amstel seems to be promoting their Radler beer for cyclists at the moment. But Amstel Radler Race doesn’t sound right to me.
I hope Wout Poels can do something good tomorrow, it’s his home area and he’s had to come from far since the Metz massacre. But maybe the flat bit to the line is too much for him.
Unfortunately Nico Roche isn’t riding any classics this year “@nicholasroche: On the way home for a bit of rest, next up #Romandie @tinkoff_saxo”
Thanks, had to write the above before the team confirmed their riders.
Are Dan Martin and Ryder Hesjedal not riding? They seem to be perennial favourites in the Ardennes races.
I would love to see Yukiya Arashiro do really well, one rider I always look for on screen, he looks good on that beautiful C59 of his. On the flip side I have a feeling the old Priest Rebellin may be lurking, he wasn’t far back on Wednesday.
What are your thoughts on EBH? I know he’s not on his best form (and you may be sick of tipping him only for him to disappoint) but he did finish 2nd on this finish at the world champs in 2012, so maybe. What I’m more interested in is his future, his manager says he has a 50/50 chance of leaving Sky apparantly
^doh, just saw your bit on EBH in Thursday Shorts…
Having just studied the make-up of Team Sky’s squadra for this race I’m impressed by both its strength and its options. I’m tipping this as the Ardennes classic they’ll win. Workhorses Knees and Pate have shown their early strength and selfless attitudes many times already this season. Younger riders Boswell and Earle have the stamina, especially on this type of parcours, to be protectors right up to the final selections. Youngster Edmonson might be the breakaway option or he could be a mid-to- late race pace-setter at the peloton head. Either way he’ll prove his worth as a reliable, developing, climber. That leaves Swifty, (already solid via his excellent showing in La Primavera) Thomas (Mr consistent) and EBH. (One more chance to up his market value) As the race enters it final stages I can imagine Sky will be disappointed, or very unlucky, not to have all those three still in contention. And remember, Swifty, quite recently, outsprinted Valverde in the Basque country. So, taking the team option – a bit like backing OPQS in the cobbled classics – I’m going for one of those three Skys for the win. As to whom… I haven’t a clue.
It’s a great race to go and watch. It helps that Valkenburg seems to have more bars than houses and the atmos is good fun, especially as the race goes past three times. Pretty easy to get to from the UK too, with an ‘any Belgian station’ Eurostar ticket, it’s a stones throw across the border.
Agreed. Get your “any Belgian station” ticket to Vise near Liege and then it’s a 15 minute train ride to Maastricht. If you can get over there with a bike then even better as the route is so convoluted you can see them multiple times by riding across country and cutting the corners. A great race to watch live.