Another hectic weekend of racing at the Paris-Roubaix has us eagerly anticipating the upcoming Amstel Gold this Sunday. This weekend it’s the turn of the Netherlands who host the 47th Amstel Gold race.
The race was first held in 1966 with French hard man Jean Stablinski taking top honours, since then some of the greatest names in the sport have triumphed in Holland’s only Classic – Eddy Merckx, Freddy Maertens, Bernard Hinault and Johan Museeuw all have it in their palmares. But it wasn’t always like this. It used to be the last of the Spring Classics but declining interest in the race lead to a reshuffle of the calendar and now it’s now the opener of the three ‘Ardennes’ races. The original race was held at a cost of a mere 50 Euros to the founder, since then it has grown to become a major race in the Pro riders’ calendar.
The 257km race has changed slightly to last year’s route in an effort to heighten the drama. With 31 classified climbs during the race the Amstel Gold is a far cry from the cobbled paved Classics of the last couple of weeks. It is common place to see Grand Tour contenders shoulder to shoulder with one-day specialists battling it out for the top spot. Having favoured sprinters in the past the organisers have chosen a route that cuts out 2km of the two final climbs, removing the descent of the Sibbergrubbe and so reducing the chance for riders to chase back to the front if they are left behind on the Keutenberg climb. Race organiser Van Vliet is hoping that the new finish will give those who favour late attacks a better chance at staying clear to the line.
Last year’s race saw Andy Schleck attack on the Keutenberg, but with the Luxembourger’s descending skills lacking somewhat, Jelle Vanendert was able to track him down before the base of the Cauberg where Joaquin Rodriguez attempted a counter attack, only to be left behind by Gilbert on the summit.
This new route is sure to break riders down and will surely bring out the real men after what must have been a tough few weeks. With much of the route expected to be used during the World Championship road race in September as well, this race could give a good prediction of who is next to take wear the rainbow stripes.
We can’t really go any further without mentioning the race sponsor Amstel Gold. A beer that may be rather alien to the non Dutch, Amstel Gold is a luxury 7% beer that will be flowing freely during and after the race in the crowd. As you’d expect, having named the race after a beer they’ll be a little bit of Dutch courage floating around amongst spectators and with the race passing through several heavily populated areas the crazy Dutch fans will be out in force. This year the crowds may be slightly rowdier as Dutch police have announced a possible strike over pay during the race.
If dodging drunk fans wasn’t bad enough, Sunday’s race is infamous for street furniture with riders having to manoeuvre roundabouts and parked cars while keeping an eye open for speed bumps and other traffic devices that litter the Dutch roads during the course of the race.
With 24 teams on the roster for Sunday the narrow roads of the race route will be crammed with 192 riders all vying for the optimum position before they start hitting the climbs.
Wild card entries include Accent Jobs-Willems Verandas, Argos-Shimano, Landbouwkrediet and the Italian team Farnese Vini-Selle Italia who replaced Russian Pro Continental team RusVelo who had to pull out by order of the UCI. It’s not clear just why the Russian team had to pull out but last month the team renounced their position in the Strade Bianche due to logistical problems. Other wildcards include Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator and Europcar.
A sure bookies favourite had to be Boonen after his recent run of form, however the Belgium rider has pulled out due to a strenuous couple of weeks of riding which saw him take the victories at E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. With Fabian Cancellara out of the equation as well after a nasty fall at Flanders the race will be left fairly open. Gilbert, who has won the last two Amstel Golds will surely fancy his chances after an unusually quiet past few races.
PBK had predicted big things for Peter Sagan of Liquigas, although a crash at the Brabantse Pijl could hamper his chances. Simon Gerrans will also be one to watch after enjoying earlier success at the TDU and Milan-San Remo. Home grown lad Robert Gesink will be hungry for a win in front of a home crowd for Rabobank.
So grab your beer, crisps and remote control – the race on Sunday will hopefully be an entertaining one. The course and perhaps even the weather will combine to create a spectacular race. Who do you think will win? Who’s do you think is looking good at the minute?