Amstel Gold Race Preview

Philippe Gilbert

Huge crowds, free-flowing beer, grand tour winners taking on one day classics specialists and a very tricky course make the Amstel a special race. The 50th edition looks like it’s made for Philippe Gilbert. Who can stop him from a fourth win this Sunday?

Amstel Gold Race preview

The Route: 251km, the spiky profile above says plenty, apparently more than 4,000m of vertical gain, impressive for 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.

In total there are 34 climbs, some repeated. Individually each of the climbs 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 30km to go. But one hill climb is fine, 34 hill reps hurt. The vertical gain adds up but it’s the fight to be at the front that really takes its toll, each narrow climb strings out the field. Anyone badly placed will waste energy trying to get back up plus they’re exposed to the risk of crashes, high on these roads that can resemble a street furniture exhibition.

The Finish: the race climbs the Cauberg, 1500m long and 4.7% but with steeper earlier sections maxing at 12% and to pass the finish line, descends 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.

Philippe Gilbert

The Contenders: Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) knows just what to do, he won here last year and took the World Championship title on the same finish in 2012. He’s deployed his devastating uphill punch to solo away over the top of the Cauberg. It is so obvious yet when he goes there’s a queue on his wheel and it only takes one hesitation or ten missing Watts and he’s got a gap. He needs to be in peak form to deliver but his mid-week display in the Brabantse Pijl says he’s there or close and he’s looking lean too. Added to this he’s got a strong team including Greg Van Avermaet, under investigation and probably overly angry. The two don’t rub along so well but GVA could be a good “sweeper” to sit on the wheels and snipe the sprint in case Gilbert’s late attack is closed down, he can cope with a few hills but this might be too much. Last year Samuel Sanchez helped with a late attack forcing others to chase.

Kwiakowski Ponferrada

When Gilbert jumps Michał Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quickstep) could be the one to follow and rumble him in the sprint. The World Champion is made for sharp hill repeats and packs a powerful finishing kick. He could try a sneak attack off the descent of the Bemelerberg much in the manner he won the Worlds last year but wearing the rainbow jersey means he’ll be heavily marked.

Michael Matthews

Michael Matthews (Orica-Greenedge) is the next pick. He won the bunch sprint in the Brabantse Pijl and can do the same again. Some call him “Bling” for his fashion sense but he’s golden when it comes to results, a podium in Milan-Sanremo, a stage win in Paris-Nice, he’s still 24 but delivers high quality World Tour results. The big question is getting up the Cauberg the final time, to track everyone without going into the redzone and ruining his sprint.

Dan Martin

It’s a difficult season for Cannondale-Garmin and this week is crucial for the team leader Daniel Martin. Things were similar last year too and Martin got a reminder of his responsibilities. I think the Flèche Wallonne is better for him – 6th, 4th, 2nd in recent years mean improvements means only victory is enough – but this is a race that should suit too. He crashed out last year but he’s got what it takes for the final Cauberg sprint and, despite his slender build, packs a crafty sprint. But the form is uncertain. He leads a strong team with Nathan Haas is an outsider. The Australian’s been visible of late and I think we’ll see him again on Sunday however I fear it might be a case of too much, too soon as he’s a generous rider prone to showing his cards when others are more cagey. There’s also Ramūnas Navardauskas, winner of the recent Circuit de la Sarthe plus local T-J Slagter.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is a dark horse. He had a busy March with action on the Strade Bianche and scrapping for the win in the Volta a Catalunya. His problem is how to win: if the race splits on the final time up the Cauberg then the climb is too short for him to outpace the likes of Gilbert and Kwiatkowski, if the race regroups on the drag to the finish line he could be outdone by Michael Matthews and others. Movistar bring a strong team with José Herrada as a far-outsider and J-J Rojas too.

Dani Moreno

The same story for Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez, how can he win? Superficially his form is more obvious having just won the Tour of the Basque Country but this wasn’t the Purito of old, gone was the dagger-between-the-teeth swashbuckler with searing uphill accelerations, he looked more measured and ultimately won the race in the race in the time trial. I think he’ll prefer Liège, while team mate Dani Moreno (pictured) is better for the Flèche Wallonne. Sacha Kolobnev often appears late in this race too but aged 33 “Kolobok” could become more famous for selling races than winning them.

If you want a real dark horse then look at Lotto-Soudal’s Jelle Vanendert, twice second in this race and a real mystery, climbing with the best in the 2011 Tour but a shadow since. Back to 2015 and he didn’t finish the Tour of the Basque Country but he didn’t in 2014 either before finishing second in this race. Team mate Tony Gallopin is targeting this race, curiously as a neo-pro he could win bunch sprints, today his big wins all come solo. Tim Wellens is another one to watch and both have been on a private training camp together to prep for the upcoming races. How they all race together should be good to see, can Gallopin sit tight for that “old” sprint?

vincenzo nibali

Vincenzo Nibali leads a strong Astana team. He’s just come off a mountain training camp and could use this race for more conditioning, maybe he’ll try a famous longer range attack? The Kazakh outfit often shows up to a race with several potential winners but while Jacob Fuglsang and Lieuwe Westra often promise they are very infrequent winners.

Tom Dumoulin

Local hopes are shared by several riders. Giant-Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin is being called jonge Eddy Merckx for the slight visual similarity, is proving to be an excellent time triallist but he’s got a good power to weight ratio and can cope with the hill reps too. He’s been placed here before. Trek Factory Racing’s Bauke Mollema brings some punchy climbing and here’s a chance to confirm he’s gone up a level since last year, to build on that ride through the snow in Tirreno-Adriatico. He’s got Fabio Felline as back-up, the Italian is finally getting the results he promised while Julián Arredondo often livens up a race , he’ll be better on the Mur de Huy. Meanwhile Lotto-Jumbo race at home with Wilco Kelderman as the leader, victory seems tough so they’ll aim for maximum visibility.

Romain Kreuziger

Finally some other pretenders. Sky’s Sergio Henao was strong in the Basque Country but like Arredondo he’s better for the upcoming races while team mate Peter Kennaugh could win this kind of race but he hasn’t raced for months thanks to a hip injury. Roman Kreuziger won this race before with a sneaky late attack but he’ll be well marked. Davide Rebellin seems to be like a fine wine as he improves with age but he’s in beer country and the 34 hills could be too much, a top-10 is possible but a win is too much. Rui Costa is Lampre-Merida’s best bet although Diego Ullisi would normally be better suited to the sprint win, but his return to competition means 250km could be too much. Europcar’s Yukiya Arashiro has made the top-10 here before and was visible at the front in the Brabantse Pijl.

Philippe Gilbert
Michael Matthews, Michał Kwiatkowski
Alejandro Valverde
Rui Costa, Nathan Haas, Joaquim Rodriguez, Bauke Mollema
Dumoulin, Martin, Navardauskas, Felline, Vanendert, GVA, Herrada

Amstel Gold Race

Weather: sunshine and clouds with a top temperature of 17°C. A light breeze of 15km/h from the north-east won’t do too much but it’s marginal reward for an attack of the Cauberg.

History: first run in 1966 this is the 50th edition of the race – spare the Rebellin jokes – and yet this is still seen as a modern race. 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. Home rider Jan Raas has the most wins with five with Philippe Gilbert on three, ahead of Eddy Merckx, Gerrie Knetemann, Rolf Järman with two.

TV: local channel NOS starts their coverage at 1.10pm Euro time with Eurosport picking up at 3.00pm and the finish is forecast for around 4.35pm. Tune in early to watch the riders get eliminated by the climbs (and sadly the crashes) but the bulk of the action tends to come late in the race.

If you can’t find it on TV, see, and for streams

76 thoughts on “Amstel Gold Race Preview”

  1. A real quick note: T-J Slagter is from Groningen, the Netherlands, while this race is in and around Maastricht, the Netherlands. While it’s a relatively very small country, these two locations are about as far apart as they can be from each other, more than 300 kilometres. So a local, perhaps, but only in a relative sense 🙂

  2. What a difference 2 years makes. I’d have expected to see Sagan in the mix for this but alas this year he rideth not. He must be saving his energy to effect his escape from his ogreliarch boss who surely has him in his sights by now…

  3. How many seconds do you think Michael Matthews need to chase after Cauberg? I do not think he can cover 8 seconds lead as it is hard to organize the chase after an explosive climb.

  4. It’s going to be the curse of the rainbow stripes for Kwiatkowski. I’d give him a “two chainring” chance.

    Is there a Women’s event running alongside the men’s event?

    • Weird to read Longo Borghini say “I think that at least the last 25km of World Cup races should be shown live. I think it’s better to see the 10 best women attack each other than watching a men’s early break that goes at 50km/h and a peloton that goes at 40km/h with 150km still to race.”
      The women’s Ronde was on at the same time as the Ronde. If you’ve tuned in to see the Ronde, why would you want another race shown instead of that? Especially a race at a lower level.
      I wouldn’t want to see the finish of Paris-Camembert shown over the Ronde either – you want to see the whole race: anything could happen whilst they spent 45 minutes showing a different race.
      Women’s cycling needs to separate itself from the men’s, instead of piggybacking on it and then complaining about a lack of coverage. Go alone and see what the interest genuinely is.
      It’s a lower level of cycling, so there is less interest: that’s not gender-based.

      • It’s a whole other topic but with more and more channels it should be possible to enable the choice to flip to the women’s race if nothing’s happening, to enable the choice if people want it.

        But concurrent events vs separate ones is a big topic. One often unmentioned but crucial thing is the audience demographic, the interest in women’s cycling is reaching a good specialist audience that’s potentially different from the men’s audience. If the demographic was identical to the men then many sponsors would sponsor men’s teams.

      • J Evans – sorry but your comment makes me angry. I disagree.

        “It’s a lower level of cycling, so there is less interest: that’s not gender-based.”
        Argh! It’s the highest level of women’s cycling. No they don’t compete with the men, but then that’s the same in athletics, tennis, skiing, whatever.

        There is less coverage, not less interest. Why? Because – as in every walk of life – men have been the controlling sex throughout history. As in politics, business, whatever. The man earns the money and the woman cleans the home. In the 21st century some open-minded people are coming round to women having something more to offer.

        “Women’s cycling needs to separate itself from the men’s, instead of piggybacking on it”.
        Cycling is not a mainstream sport as it is. There are lots of people asking questions about money and TV profits etc etc. Races are disappearing due to lack of funds. If the best way – at the moment – to show women’s racing is to add a bit to the coverage of the men’s race, then do it, I say. Contrary to what you believe, a lot of people would like to see that.

        “anything could happen whilst they spent 45 minutes showing a different race.”
        It’s not football. No-one is about to score a goal. The TV producer could flip between or show highlights when they return to the men’s race. Sporza collect 30-45 second clips of ‘moments’ – someone breaking-away, someone crashing etc.

    • There is La Flèche Wallonne Féminine on Wednesday 22nd, which is the same day as the Mens race and runs on some of the same course. Perhaps that is what you were thinking of? Or…

      There is the Ronde van Gelderland womens race on the same day as Amstel Gold, but it is not a womens version of AGR and is most certainly a separate event. Should be a good race that one.

  5. Has this race always been called the “Amstel Gold” race, even when it was first installed in 1966? And is that Gilbert in the picture above drinking a glass of Amstel–I thought Belgians don’t drink beer from the Netherlands?

    • Yes, the despite Amstel brand changing hands. It now belongs to Heineken International, the world’s third largest brewer and owner of brands like Morreti, Murphy’s, Tiger, Żywiec etc.

      Anyone visiting the route should taste the Amstel beer but check out the smaller Gulpener beer which is brewed on the course.

  6. Is it surprising that BMC continues to race GVA despite the escalation in his doping case? Particularly now that he is not the team leader and does not stand much of a chance to win (or just finish 3rd)? It seems different from the Kreuziger situation where he has been re-instated by his own federation and Tinkoff would face a lawsuit if they sidelined him.

    • Well i am not very familiar with the kreuziger case. But the lawsuit against GVA is based on nothing, no positive tests, no blood passport anormalities, no proof of anything. They only have mails between him and a suspicious docter.

      • There’s no suspension so it’s innocent until proven guilty, he will have to account for this in the hearing. It can be awkward seeing him and Kreuziger in the race but it’s worse if people get pulled from racing, ie stopped from working, on the basis of allegations rather than convictions. Cycling and all sports do of course stop athletes after an A-sample “positive” to protective suspensions do exist.

  7. Getting back on track, there are a few missing, that really could have gone the whole way and got top 10’s… There are also riders that we are uncertain of their form. Would be interested in seeing Ulissi and Gerrans especially once 100% fit.

    Think Gilbert should hopefully win this. Kwiatowski for a podium.

  8. We only get Amstel Light here in the States – I’ve often wondered if there was a “real” Amstel and judging by the color of that podium nectar, I’m thinking there is.

    I’m fascinated by this race, mostly because of the curious geography in this spot of Europe, what with Limburg dipping down into Belgium and Germany. And also, that elevation chart resembles a hard days riding where I live. Short punchy hills, yeah.

  9. Ok Inrng,

    Enough with the modesty,

    You have to tell the world that you have great cycling gear available at Prendas… or I will tell them!


  10. Another excellent review of an exciting race – thank you. Your list of possible contenders makes clear that a potential winner is always difficult to call. It’s surely one ingredient that makes this event memorable.

    Hope there is not to much criticism of the ‘street furniture’, narrow roads, steep hills and dense crowds from those unable to enjoy the unbridled excitement of real bike racing !

  11. It will also be exciting to see Betancur.. He could definately take Fleche Wallonne, but is he going to turn up +5 kgs and with bad form? That guy is hard to predict

  12. Gilbert looks good. Both in Basque country and in brabantse pijl he was on shape. The problem for this race is that everybody knows what he can do on the Cauberg, he will be overmarked. I expect him more for LBL (it seems to me he is climbing better than other years).
    Seen from another side, north East wind means tail winds in the last ks. With say 10-20 meters up on the Cauberg, it might be enough to get to the finish line.

    On 2nd Purito and 3rd GVA. As usual.

  13. Hi Inrng, what do you think of the final circuit?

    It worked out well in ’13, but I have a feeling that was more due to it being new than the circuit itself. I know it’s maybe too early to judge, but I think it closes the race further, something that I think should be avoided as much as possible. As it is now, the section from Kruisberg to Keutenberg seems wasted and although some attacks will come from there, they are pretty much doomed to make it to the line and are reduced to deciding who’s going to pull them back.

    On the other hand, I very much like that the finish line has been moved, do you know if it’s the exact same as in 2006 (Tour) when Kessler won?

    • I don’t think the change of finish location has been as successful in creating finish line tension as the organisers thought. Prior to the change when the finish was at the top of the Cauberg there would often be riders trying to escape on the hills in the last 10km or so. They would generally be reeled in just before Valkenburg or on the run up the Cauberg as they would be climbers rather than puncheurs. The finish line was moved to give riders who were not quite so punchy on the Cauberg a chance, although whoever is first over the top of the final climb remains the most likely to win. When Kreuziger won it he went off the front a couple of km past the last climb of the Bemelerberg and nobody wanted to chase.
      What the move has done is to create more space for the finish line village so there has been an opportunity for more people to see the finish on and around the line itself. This includes those on corporate packages but in true Dutch egalitarian style there are also large free sections on the run in.
      If you are reading the English version of the AGR website note that the section called “Race/Finish line” is a couple of years old now. I know this because I wrote it, although there has been a little new information added at the bottom more recently.

      Looking forward to today’s race, although the good weather might make it a little less hard for some. Also, if it’s been dry recently this will make it likely there will be fewer punctures as there should be less mergel/marl and flints on the roads. If you’ve not ridden around there it’s difficult to appreciate how sapping the constant rise and fall is on the legs. The Gulpenerberg and the Eyeserbosweg are especially unpleasant for the bigger rider such as myself!

      Gilbert’s also my pick. He is in good form and has won in the past even though he has been marked. On his day not many can keep up with him when he goes on the Cauberg. Looking forward to it!


  14. Inring since you mentioned Rebellin perhaps good to mention Paterski on the same CCC team. Recently in good form, can climb and has a decent sprint. Not sure about podium in this company but may be top ten contender.

  15. Picture of DM, does speak volumes of a disappointing Garmin to date.

    Yes, please don’t make Inrng have to be content editor and civility cop! Least we can do for our talented and gracious host.

  16. Sorry this is off topic but just received my inrng jersey in the post from prendas. Fits like a glove, totally delighted with it! Thanks inrng for all your work, please keep it up!

  17. You did mention Yukiya Arashiro as being a possible top ten finisher but Europcar don’t appear on any of the startlists I’ve seen.

      • They’re racing in the other race of the day (and, whisper it quietly, the better one) Tro Bro Leon.

        Invpcreibly sad this race is not on Eurosport – televisually stunning, which is what cycling should be looking for.

  18. Taling about Dark Horses, I noticed Bardiani bring their strongest squad: Colbrelli and Battaglin cope well with hills and both pack a mean jump to the line and since Pirazzi and Boem are sure to liven things up on the road they can both sit tight. I don’t really expect any of those to win but I’m counting on them to make the race more interesting and who knows, land a podium finish after all.
    Also the other Italian, Gasparotto, an ex-winner is starting wearing the colours of the modest Wanty-Group Gobert team, he won’t have to do a lot of work either and I gather from interviews in the Belgian press he is very dedicated to get a good result.
    And for the non-starters, I find it a bit strange Stybar isn’t on the starting line, to me he seems the best possible support for Kwiatkowski in this race, but he’s already had a long season (but so has GVA).

    • GVA is sort of an exception.

      I hope Bardiani start to get things going the right way this week, at least for Giro’s sake. They had a horrible start of the season up to date, totally Garminesque – no wait, even worse, more of a Lotto Jumbo.

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