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.
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.
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.
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.