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Amstel’18: The PEZ Gold Preview
Race Preview: The spring season now moves from the cobbles to the climbs and this Sunday sees the action hit Holland and the Amstel Gold Race. At one time it was a race for a sprinter that could get over a few climbs, now is has 35 climbs packed into its 260 kilometers. Ed Hood takes a look at the Dutch Classic.



2016 winner Enrico Gasparotto


We’re almost done with spring cobbles for another year – it’s the ‘Ardennes Classics’ phase of the season now with the Amstel, Flèche Wallonne and the fourth Monument, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The ‘transition’ race which takes us from cobbles to climbs and corners is the Flèche Brabanconne which takes place on Wednesday, won last year by a very good Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida & Italy).

Dubai Tour 2017 - 1st stage Nakheel stage 181 km - 31/01/2017 - Sonny Colbrelli (ITA - Bahrain - Merida) - photo Luca Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2017
Sonny Colbrelli won Brabantse Pijl'17 during the week before Amstel


But the ‘warm up’ for the Flèche Wallonne and La Doyenne – as Liege-Bastogne-Liege is known – is ‘The Amstel,’ The Netherlands only Classic. The Amstel Gold Race is a bit of a baby as far as classics go; the Primavera goes back to 1907; Flanders to 1913 and Roubaix to 1896. For The Netherlands biggest bike race it’s a relatively recent 1966; when France’s Jean Stablinski took the honors.


The first Amstel winner - Jean Stablinski


This year will be edition 53 of the race that bears the name of Amsterdam’s main river and – of course – the golden beer.

Valkenburg - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Michal KWIATKOWSKI (Poland / Team Sky) - Philippe GILBERT (Belgium / Team Quick Step - Floors) - Michael ALBASINI (Swiss / Team Orica Scott) pictured during the Amstel Gold Race 2017 - foto NV/PN/Cor Vos © 2017
The winner gets the beer!


Held mainly in the lumpy southern province of Limburg - scene of Phil Gilbert’s World’s triumph in 2012 – the route has been much changed over the years; however some things haven’t changed - the sinuous nature of the course and the proliferation of small climbs, there are 35 this year within the 254 kilometers but with the legendary Cauberg no longer the climax as was the case for so long. Rather the Cauberg comes third last with the Bemelerberg the last ascent of the day.


The Amstel finalé


Much of the course is urban, with speed bumps, bollards, ramps and lots of road furniture within that scary saw tooth profile. Scotland’s Tour de France star, Robert Millar referred to it as ‘The Tour of the Roundabouts!’

Heerlen-Limburg-wielrennen-cycling-cyclisme- archief-stock-archive- Amstel Gold Race diverse jaren- Jan Raas -  foto Cor Vos ©2005
Jan Raas on the attack


Back in the 70’s the Classics were the Classics and the same names which you’ll see on the roles of honor in the cobbled classics can be seen at the Amstel – Belgians Verbeeck, Merckx, Maertens and Breton Hinault are all there. As is home boy, Jan Raas, five times winner and ‘record man’ with five wins, including four in a row – ‘The Amstel Gold Raas,’ was the joke of the day.

Valkenburg: wielrennen-cycling-Amstel Gold Race- Davide Rebellin en Michael Boogerd  -foto Cor Vos ©2004
Davide Rebellin leading Michael Boogerd


But Phil Gil is ‘getting there’ and his 2017 triumph means he’s on four wins and could well make it five in 2018. Raas also boasts the record for top 10 finishes on eight, the same number of top 10’s as a certain Davide Rebellin (Sovac Natur4ever & Italy) his record is: 1 win, 1 x 2e, 3 x 4e, 1 x 5e, 1 x 6e, 1 x 8e. Rebellin also holds the record for starts in the race; 18 with 16 finishes.


Phil Anderson


The home Dutch riders used to jealously guard victory on their native tarmac; between 1977 and 1991 they only allowed foreigners to slip them three times – Hinault in ’81, Aussie, Phil Anderson in ’83 and Belgium’s forgotten classics star, Eric Van Lancker in ’89. The ‘home boys’ have 17 wins in total the Belgies are on 13 and the I-talans (as Sean Kelly always calls them) seven.

Eric van Lancker wint de Amstel Goldrace, foto Cor Vos©1998
1989 winner Eric Van Lancker


However, perhaps it’s the ‘Mondialisation’ of pro cycling but there hasn’t been a home winner since Erik Dekker in 2001 and Michael Boogerd in 1999 – but ‘Boogie’ did pack in another four second places and two thirds into the next decade.

Valkenburg - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - Amstel - Gold Race  - Michael Boogerd (Ned-Rabobank) - Paolo Bettini (Ita-Quick Step) - foto Marco Ferrageau/Marketa Navratilova/Cor Vos ©2007
Michael Boogerd on the attack in Amstel 2007


As well as the demise of the home winner, the race has become increasingly the province of the specialist climbers and powerful, acrobatic riders who can survive the succession of short, steep rises which infest the parcours. Notably the savage Cauberg ramp, just over the top of which the race used to conclude the race; if you can’t ‘power climb,’ you can’t win, it’s that simple. It’s a much more difficult race to pick a winner in than the Primavera, Ronde or Roubaix – few would have picked Ivanov or Kreuziger as potential winners in recent years.





We’re lacking one wee piece of the form puzzle for the race – the result of the Brabantse Pijl, run off before we went to press.

Valkenburg - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - illustration Cauberg Climb pictured during the Amstel Gold Race 2013 - world cup race from Maastricht to Valkenburg on April 14 - photo Cor Vos © 2013
The Cauberg


But without further ado, here’s our Terrific Ten for Sunday:
Michael Albasini (Mitchelton-Scott & Switzerland): He was third here last year and whilst he hasn’t sparkled yet this year there were some glimmers of form in the Pais Vasco and he’ll be keen to perform well here given last year’s podium.

Valkenburg - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Michael ALBASINI (Swiss / Team Orica Scott) - Philippe GILBERT (Belgium / Team Quick Step - Floors) - Sergio Luis HENAO MONTOYA (Columbia / Team Sky) pictured during the Amstel Gold Race 2017 - foto Pool/BC/Cor Vos © 2017
Albasini


Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors & France): was a force in the recent Pais Vasco with two stage wins. He started the season strongly with stage win in Colombia and has been to the fore since, culminating in his strong showing in Northern Spain. His presence and that of Gilbert gives Quick-Step two major cards to play.

Bermeo - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Julian ALAPHILIPPE (France / Team Quick - Step Floors) - Gorka IZAGUIRRE INSAUSTI (Spain / Team Bahrain - Merida) pictured during 58th Itzulia Basque Country stage 2 from Zarautz to Bermeo (167,4 KM) - photo Miwa iijima/Cor Vos © 2018
Alaphilippe


Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida & Italy): with third and a ninth places here in the past, it’s a race which suits the Italian. Top ten in Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne and the Primavera, he’s not sparkled in the last few weeks but he’s fast and the parcours is to his liking.

Foto LaPresse - Fabio Ferrari 09/02/2018 Dubai (Emirati Arabi Uniti) Sport Ciclismo Dubai Tour 2018 - 5a edizione - Tappa 4 - Dubai Municipality Stage - da Skidive Dubai a Hatta Dam - 172 km (106,9 miglia) Nella foto: Photo LaPresse - Fabio Ferrari 09/02/2018 Dubai (United Arab Emirates) Sport Cycling Dubai Tour 2018 - 5th edition - Stage 4 - Dubai Municipality Stage - Skidive Dubai to Hatta Dam - 172 km (106,9 miles) In the pic:
Colbrelli


Enrico Gasparatto (Bahrain-Merida & Italy): despite Old Father Time clinging to his shirt tails, he’s 36 years-old now, the 2012 and 2016 winner, ‘Gaspa’ is still going strong and he’s no respecter of reputation. And statistically he’s the second most successful rider in the race over these parcours with two wins and six top 10 finishes.

Valkenburg - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Valgren Michael (Danmark / Team Tinkoff - Tinkov) - Gasparotto Enrico (Italy / Wanty - Groupe Gobert) - Colbrelli Sonny (Italy / Bardiani CSF) pictured during UCI World Tour race the Amstel Gold Race 2016 from Maastricht to Valkenburg, the Netherlands - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2016
Gasparotto


Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors & Belgium): Gilbert is the second most successful Amstel rider of all time behind Raas with wins in 2010, ’11, ’14 and ’17 plus a fourth, a fifth, a sixth and 10th – and those stats make him the most successful starter in this race by a long way. He was second in the E3, impressively strong in Gent-Wevelgem, third in the Ronde and after an under performance at Roubaix he’ll want to make amends.

Valkenburg - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Philippe GILBERT (Belgium / Team Quick Step - Floors) pictured during the Amstel Gold Race 2017 - foto Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos © 2017
Gilbert


Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida & Spain): the third string to the Bahrain bow gave good account of himself in the Pais Vasco and was seventh here last year, top 10 for sure.

Solden - Austria - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -  IZAGIRRE Ion of Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team, GASPAROTTO Enrico (ITA) Rider of Team Bahrain - Merida  pictured during stage - 7 of the Tour de Suisse 2017 stage -1 - from Zernez - Solden, 160.80 km - photo VK/PN/Cor Vos © 2017
Gasparotto and Ion Izagirre


Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky & Poland): won here in 2015 and was second to Gilbert last year – so it’s his kind of race. Whilst he’s won on the Algarve and in Tirreno, this year he’s not had the Classics success we’re used to seeing from the talented Pole. He’ll certainly be desirous of another classic on his palmarés.

Oudenaarde - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Michal KWIATKOWSKI (Polen / Team Sky) pictured during the Ronde Van Vlaanderen 2018 - Elite men - a one day UCI world tour race between Antwerpen and Oudenaarde - photo Tim van Wichelen/Cor Vos © 2018 HQ
Kwiatkowski


Michael Matthews (Sunweb & Australia): this a race which should suit the talented Aussie, he’s been third, fifth and tenth in the past and was working himself hard in the Pais Vasco – looking for a payoff here, we’d wager.

Meerbeke - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - STYBAR Zdenek (CZE) of Quick - Step Floors, MATTHEWS Michael (AUS) of Team Sunweb, WELLENS Tim (BEL) of Lotto Soudal pictured during the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2018 a one day cyclingrace WC between Gent and Meerbeke on 24-2-2018 - photo PdV/PN/Cor Vos © 2018
Matthews


Michael Valgren (Astana & Denmark): the Het Nieuwsblad winner was fourth in the Ronde and ‘in the mix’ in the E3 and Gent-Wevelgem. He was second here in 2016 and is a definite podium proposition.


Valgren


Alejandro Valverde (Movistar & Spain): after Phil Gil and Gaspa the most successful Amstel stats in the race with two second places, a third, a fourth and a sixth place. And he’s already won nine times this year. . .

Barcelona - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Alejandro VALVERDE BELMONTE (Spain / Team Movistar) pictured during 98th Volta Ciclista a Catalunya (2.UWT) stage 7 from Barcelona to Barcelona (154.8KM) - 25-03-2018 - photo Luis Gomez/Cor Vos © 2018
Valverde


# And the good thing about this one is that you don’t have to ask which beer to drink as you watch the live action on steephill.tv. #


Gilbert wins in 2017


Valkenburg - Netherlands    - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - peloton passage mill in Beek (Adsteegclimb)  pictured during the Amstel Gold Race 2017 - foto  Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2017
Amstel - Typically Dutch





It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he's covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,600 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself - many years and kilograms ago - and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

 


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