The cobbled classics are sadly done for the year, now we move to the Ardennes Classics, starting with the Amstel Gold Race this Sunday. Here’s what you need to know before race day.
It’s Named After a Beer
You might think the Amstel Gold Race would be named after the Astel River which runs through Amsterdam, but you’d be wrong. The race is named after its title sponsor, the Amstel beer brand.
That’s why you’ll see beer on this podium at the finish as opposed to champagne.
Compared to the battles of attrition over long miles of cobbles, Amstel Gold will stretch contenders out by crisscrossing the Limburg region over rolling, narrow country roads. Positioning and strong teamwork are key.
The route has changed in recent years, but this year’s route is the same as last year. Until 2012, the race ended at the top of the Cauberg. In 2013 the finish was moved a few kilometres past the climb. Then, in 2017, the Cauberg was removed as the final climb. And in 2018, the final loop was moved on to narrower roads to make positioning even more critical in the finale.
Starting in Maastricht, the peloton will cover three loops through the Limburg hills, with three climbs of the Cauberg. The Cauberg is skipped for the final kilometers, with only the Geulhemmerberg and Bemelerberg climbs included in the last 16km lap.
Who to Watch
There are five former winners on the startlist.
Philippe Gilbert, Michal Kwiatkowski (2015), Michael Valgren (2018), Enrico Gasparotto (2016), and Roman Kreuziger (2013). What’s really interesting about that list is that the last three are all racing for Dimension Data this year.
If we take Brabantse Pijl as an indicator of form, you should keep an eye on Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Michael Matthews (Sunweb), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus).
Of that group, Mathieu van der Poel is my easy favourite pick, on debut nonetheless.
Fresh off his fourth Monument win at Paris-Roubaix last week, four-time Amstel winner Philippe Gilbert will also be a name to watch. Gilbert’s Deceuninck-QuickStep team will bring their usual strong line-up to the one-day race to support.
Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde, who was in the final eight-rider move in last year’s race and who placed second at Amstel in 2015, will be on the start line looking for a win. The world champion was recently eighth at the Tour of Flanders.
A big unknown for the race will be Peter Sagan, who has so far failed to land a big win. Sagan was an animator late in the race at Paris-Roubaix last Sunday, but couldn’t respond when Gilbert rode away with Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin). He’s got to be hungry for a win.