After two years of bother the organisers promise they’ve upgraded the photofinish equipment so there’ll be no doubting the winner. Perhaps they won’t need all this given Tadej Pogačar is riding? It’s a tough course where he’ll find plenty of rivals.
The Route: 253.6km and all in a corner of the Netherlands and not the low country but Limburg, the hilly part. It’s relative as the race rarely gets beyond 200 metres altitude but there are 3,200 metres of vertical gain spread across 33 marked climbs.
One difficulty you don’t see from the profile nor map is the mix of narrow roads and tight corners, it’s part part-labyrinth, part-Mario Kart course, part street furniture showroom. It means those at the front get to chose their line while anyone beyond, say, 20th wheel is stuck in a cycle of braking and sprinting. Local knowledge and a couple of strong team mates help here, arguably more than the Ronde and Liège.
The Finish: the Keutenberg and then the Cauberg to cross the finish line. Then it’s out into the apple orchards and and the Bemelerberg climb, a soft gradient but sometimes just enough to split the field. Over the top it’s via Mathieu van der Poel Allée and to the finish on a big wide road.
The ContendersThe organisers have hired a different company to handle the timing and photofinish in order to avoid the hiccups of the past two years but maybe they need not worry as Tadej Pogačar (UAE) is in town. Of the Fantastic Five, only he starts so at least he doesn’t have to worry about Mathieu van der Poel. The course suits with its succession of hilly climbs, he’s handy for a sprint in a group and he’s binned the mythology of having to learn the lay of the land in the Ronde. That said the Amstel course is more technical and so he can’t be too nonchalant here especially as he’s only started once in 2019 but didn’t finish. Plus while he’s spoken about racing on to Liège the following Sunday he’s said the results depend on being able to hold onto form.
Tom Pidcock (Ineos) back to a race where he was less photogenic in 2021 when Wout van Aert just beat him to the line. Last year’s winner Michał Kwiatkowski was dropped in Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl but he’s got the race craft and could surprise, if not he’ll be there to guide Pidcock.
Jumbo-Visma are the home team but won’t have it easy and their best riders aren’t here, no Wout van Aert, no Primož Roglič. Tiesj Benoot and Attila Valter team up again after their Strade Bianche ride where you can pick the letter “t” or “l” to place after due- depending on how you saw things. Both can work well here with Benoot as the battering ram and Valter as the more incisive rider for the climbs.
Bora-hansgrohe have Ide Schelling and Sergio Higuita with the former an outsider capable of taking a flyer, a Schelling versnelling, while Higuita won a stage of the Tour of the Basque Country and not by scaling a wall or ramp but bossing a bunch sprint, albeit one reduced thanks to some climbing.
Briefly announced as the winner last year Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r Citroën) is in form but faces the perpetual problem of riders who target “the Ardennes” races in there are only four races here and competition is fierce. Still he’s world class on his day and is suited to these sharp climbs.
Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) fell ill for the Ronde but looked ripe for Paris-Camembert and the longer the race, the better he’ll go. David Gaudu’s here too after a decent Basque Country result despite being ill while Romain Grégoire’s worth watching.
Neilson Powless (EF Education) is having a great season and when he got his first win in the GP La Marseillaise he said his goal was really the Ardennes. The terrain suits as he climbs well, the hard part will be positioning and if it comes down to a sprint, his rivals could be quicker. Ben Healy is climbing well, Mikkel Honoré is strong but Andrea Piccolo should be their second option only his form doesn’t look so hot.
A hilly race for a punchy Dutch climber? Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) has featured in the race but how to win. Mattias Skjelmose is another option with Quinn Simmons and Toms Skujiņš bringing more support.
Alpecin-Deceuninck must be the most gravity-challenged team in the World Tour, especially now Jay Vine’s left. They can clean up in flat races but it’s harder for them in the hills. Søren Kragh Andersen, Robert Stannard are their best options but how to win? SKA can try to float away during a lull.
With the pressure to perform easing now the Flemish calendar’s done, Soudal-Quickstep have a better chance here, plus a team that resembles their “wolfpack” style with younger riders able to take risks so Mauro Schmid and Andrea Bagioli have a shot. Rémi Cavagna is in form too and was decent on the climbs in the Brabantse Pijl before deciding to ride up one on the pavé standing on the pedals while his breakaway companions rode up the smooth gutter, seated and he blew up trying to match them.
Intermarché-Circus-Wanty have a solid team with Kobe Goosens, Rui Costa, Lilian Calmejane and Lorenzo Rota but translating their Majorcan wins into a World Tour victory is a big ask, Costa is normally the best bet – fourth in Strade Bianche – but doesn’t seem in form now.
Finally is this race too hilly for Matej Mohorič (Bahrain) as he can get a result but risks being fried by the finale. Jayco-Al Ula are having a discreet classics campaign to put it politely, but Matteo Sobrero is a rising talent, a TT rider capable of more but he’d have to take some long range move. Lotto-Dstny’s Andrea Kron is due a big result one day but how to get past all the names cited above? Movistar’s Alex Aranburu is a fast-finisher if he can be there in the finish. Astana are beginning to pick up and Alexey Lutsenko and Samuele Battistella are worth watching but translating Lutsenko’s Sicilia summit finish from Friday to this is a big leap.
Tom Pidcock, Benoît Cosnefroy
Neilson Powless, Valentin Madouas, Tiesj Benoot
Valter, Higuita, Schmid, Mohorič, Lutsenko, Kron, Kwiatkowski
Weather: cloudy and some rain showers, a top temperature of 12°C.
TV: the race starts at 10.50am and the finish is for 5.00pm CEST. 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. It’s a heuristic but it’s a wrong one. The Ardennes are a western part of the larger Eifel mountain range. The Ardennes begin far to the south of this race, think Liège and instead the Limburg hills are clay and sand deposits. Now you know.
Women’s Amstel: this starts at 10.15 CEST and finishes around 2.20pm with TV coverage from midday onwards. For a good preview, see procyclinguk.com’s Amstel picks