A calendar change because of presidential elections this Sunday in France means the Amstel Gold Race swaps slots with Paris-Roubaix, a hilly race instead of the flattest of them. Some things stay the same though: it’s Mathieu van der Poel vs the field.
The Route: the profile says plenty, a day in Heuvelland, “hill land”. The stats too as it’s 254km, with 33 marked climb and almost 3,500m of vertical gain, a lot for a course that rarely ventures beyond the altitude of 200m, there are buildings in the Netherlands that stand taller than most of today’s climbs.
The one thing harder to count from afar is all the corners and junctions. The difficulty is combination of small roads, turns and climbs which combine to make the accordion effect of the peloton harder than usual for those left at the back, a lot of repeat efforts just to stay in contention. Not that being at the front is easy, there’s the fight for position as well.
The Finish: the now-familiar ascent of the Cauberg and over to the finish line and then the loop via the orchards and the Bemelerberg climb, a soft gradient but sometimes just enough to split the field. Then via Mathieu van der Poel Allée and to the finish on a big wide road.
The Contenders: Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) is a past winner, is in form and is hard to beat. As ever his squad is not as strong as rival outfits so he’ll have to force events himself and get into a group where he can then hope to win by sprint going solo. Easy said than done…
…so next comes a long list of convincing contenders. But it’s hard to pick among them, especially since a lot of the usual names aren’t here because they’ve been racing in the Basque Country. Jumbo-Visma compete on home soil but without Wout van Aert. Christophe Laporte and Tiesj Benoot showed good form in Flanders and if they can both get to the finish they can hope to play a numbers game on Alpecin and the rest.
Bahrain are another strong team with several cards to play. Dylan Teuns, Fred Wright and Matej Mohorič can feature.
UAE rest Tadej Pogačar and instead come with Marc Hirshi instead. He’s not been the same force he was in 2020 but looks to be back on track and has the experience needed for this race. Matteo Trentin’s on hand for experience on a young team with Juan Ayuso worth watching.
Quick-Step haven’t quite brought their A-Ardennes team, instead it looks like some riders are getting a workout ahead of Roubaix. So no Alaphilippe but Florian Sénéchal and so on. Kasper Asgreen is in form and versatile but will have to take risks to win, to go early and long. Andrea Bagioli is handy for a hilly course.
Tom Pidcock is back at the race where he proved less photogenic than Wout van Aert in a photofinish one year ago and in rising form. Ineos have deputies in Dylan van Baarle and past Amstel winner Michał Kwiatkowski.
Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) is in great form, only he could follow van der Poel and Pogačar up the Koppenberg. But how to win here? He’s strong on the endurance front, less so in a sprint but will be confident.
Lotto-Soudal bring Philippe Gilbert to race up the Cauberg for the last time, the climb has been essential to his career as he won the Amstel four times, took the 2012 World title here. In 2011 the Amstel Gold race was part of his “Ardennes” sweep of Amstel*, Liège, Flèche Wallonne and Brabantse Pijl. Tim Wellens and Andreas Kron though have better chances of winning here.
Michael Valgren (EF Education) has won here too and just like before can pop-up, this is a race that suits him and he likes. Søren Kragh Andersen has been aiming for this race and the Ardennes. He was a late call-up for DSM last week only to not start so his condition’s a mystery. Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r Citröen) is knocking on the door of a big result but how to cross the line first in a race with such a deep field. His speciality is hitting the climbs hard. Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) has had three top-5s here before and found winning ways in the recent Volta a Catalunya. Simon Clarke has been a useful last minute signing for the Israel-Premiertech team and has the race craft to do well here. Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) is an infrequent winner but in good shape and his team are flourishing this spring.
|Mathieu van der Poel
|Tom Pidcock, Marc Hirschi, Michael Matthews
|Laporte, Benoot, Mohorič, Madouas, Cosnefroy, SKA
|Kron, Clarke, Bagioli, Teuns, Barguil, Ayuso, Wellens
Weather: much of western Europe’s been blasted by storms but these have blown away and it’ll be a cool with some sunshine and clouds, 12°C.
TV: the race starts at 10.20 CEST and finishes at around 4.45pm. Tune for the last hour to catch most of the action. It’s on NOS locally and Eurosport/GCN for most other territories.
* Ardennes? the Amstel Gold Race isn’t in the Ardennes. Cycling sometimes label it as an “Ardennes classic” because it’s hilly, on at the same time of year and not far from the Ardennes, a heuristic that helps paint a picture even if it’s a bit wrong. The Ardennes are a western part of the larger Eifel mountain range in Germany. The Ardennes begin, if you were to ride from today’s race, further to the south than today’s race, think Liège. Today’s hills in the south of Limburg are not the Ardennes hills, rather clay and sand deposits.
Women’s Amstel: this starts at 10.35 CEST and finishes around 2.00pm with coverage from midday onwards. For a good preview, see procyclinguk.com’s Amstel picks