COBBLED SPECIALISTS CROSS BORDER INTO THE NETHERLANDS
One consequence of the date change that sees Amstel Gold Race swap places with Paris-Roubaix on the calendar this year is that many of the cobbled Classic specialists who have starred in the Belgian races so far this spring will also line-up at Amstel Gold.
Whereas usually these riders take a well-earned race by the time Amstel Gold comes around, the fact that possibly the biggest cobbled race of them all — Paris-Roubaix — is still to come means they’ll want to maintain their current peak of form.
Consequently, every rider who finished in the top seven at the Tour of Flanders (apart from Tadej Pogačar) is down to ride in the Netherlands this weekend.
Of those riders, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) will of course be the one to watch. The Dutch rider ended his nation’s 18-year run without an Amstel Gold Race victory three seasons ago in one of the most spectacular finishes in recent history, and the combination of form and motivation means he could do something similar this time.
Groupama-FDJ were also extremely impressive at the Tour of Flanders, and there two stars from that day (fifth-place finisher Stefan Küng and third-place finisher Valentin Madouas) — especially Madouas, considering that his speciality is hilly Classics like this rather than the cobblestones.
Brit Fred Wright was one of the revelations of the Tour of Flanders, where he placed seventh, and there’s no telling what he could do at Amstel Gold, where he’ll line-up alongside Bahrain-Victorious team-mates Dylan Teuns and Matej Mohoric.
Jumbo-Visma set to still be without Wout van Aert, so the onus is again on Christophe Laporte and Tiesj Benoot to step up, while Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl’s misfiring Kasper Asgreen, Florian Sénéchal and Zdeněk Štybar will hope for better luck in the Netherlands than they had in Belgium.
Søren Kragh Andersen (DSM), Anthony Turgis (TotalEnergies) and Victor Campenaerts (Lotto-Soudal) all also have an outside shot at victory.
RETURN OF THE PUNCHEURS WHO SAT OUT OF COBBLED CLASSICS
Although there are similarities between the cobbled Classics and Amstel Gold, this is still a distinctly different kind of race, and therefore a different kind of puncheur will be in the mix for victory.
There are no nasty cobblestoned stretches here, so the riders uncomfortable on the pavé need not worry, and there is a greater and more intensified amount of climbing, with 33 climbs featuring in total. Not to mention all the pesky roundabouts and road furniture the race is notorious for.
Some puncheurs skipped the cobbled races entirely until the Tour of Flanders, and are now hoping to have arrived at top form going into Amstel Gold and the later Ardennes Classics. Of those riders, Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Victorious) was the most impressive, placing sixth, but close behind him in eleventh was another rider reaching form at just the right time for Amstel Gold — Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco), who has made the top five here three times, and would be a top favourite from a small group sprint.
Others haven’t been seen much this season, but could be contenders for Amstel Gold if they’ve built their form via training kilometres. The most intriguing rider in this sense is Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates), considering just how brilliant he was in 2020, especially at the Ardennes Classics. He’ll be a huge danger if he can recapture that form following a lacklustre season last year, and there were signs that he might be during his few race appearances so far in 2022.
Benoit Cosnefroy (Ag2r Citroën) should also be in his element in this terrain following some strong performances on French roads this spring, as should his compatriot Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic), who won the GP Miguel Indurain last weekend. And Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Alex Aranburu (Movistar) and Michael Valgren (EF Education-EasyPost) could all come into their own here despite campaigns in the cobbled Classics.
PIVOTAL ATTACKS TO BE MADE ON THE CAUBERG
Amstel Gold Race is synonymous with the Cauberg, and the 1200 metre climb has been the decisive factor in recent editions of the women’s race.
Crested just a couple of kilometres from the finish (unlike in the men’s race, where two climbs and a flat final 7km follow it), the climb has been the launchpad for all-or-nothing attacks.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) has been the main instigator of these attacks lately, winning the 2019 edition by dropping everyone here, and being caught tantalisingly close to the line after again going clear on the climb last year. The Pole has endured a frustrating few years, only winning once since that triumph here in 2019, but if there’s any race suited to her putting an end to her long drought, it’s this one.
Niewiadoma has even outperformed Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) on the Cauberg, and the Dutchwoman has, despite three podium finishes, never won Amstel Gold. As her home race, she’ll surely be desperate to amend that on Sunday, and is bound to animate the race with attacks.
While Movistar are bringing Arlenis Sierra (who rode so impressively at the Tour of Flanders to finish fourth) as a potential option for a small group sprint, SD Worx appear to be going all-in for an attacking race. Their top sprinter and Tour of Flanders winner Lotte Kopecky is sitting this one out, leaving it up to Demi Vollering, 2018 winner Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and possibly exciting young Hungarian Blanka Vas to deliver the team a win.
They’ll have hoped to have shed many of their rivals prior to the Cauberg, but recent history suggests that it’s here where the final blow will be made.
PIDCOCK OUT TO AVENGE LAST YEAR'S PHOTO FINISH
In 2021, Amstel Gold Race was the race where Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) confirmed that he was, at the age of just 21, already able to compete for victory in the elite Classics.
Just four days after earning his first win as a professional at De Brabantse Pijl, Pidcock played a starring role in the Dutch Classic, and was unfortunate to be outsprinted into second by Wout van Aert in a photo finish by a margin about as minuscule as the gaps between the words you're reading in this article.
He looked set to play a starring role in the spring Classics before stomach problems interrupted his campaign, but a podium finish at Dwars door Vlaanderen followed by a decent ride to place 14th at the Tour of Flanders indicate he’s back up to speed.
Now he’ll enter Amstel Gold as one of the top favourites, in terrain that, at least for now in this early stage of his professional career, might suit him better than others. His diversity in the youth ranks, during which time he won everything from the under-23 Giro to Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, was one of the things that really caught the attention, but so far it’s been at hilly Classics where he’s really excelled as a pro, most memorably during his second-place finish here last year.
That race also saw a very strong performance by his Ineos Grenadiers team as a whole, and their line-up for this year’s race is stacked with talent. Some of the mainstays of the cobbled Classics, including Tour of Flanders runner-up Dylan van Baarle and young British revelation Ben Turner will be joined by 2015 winner Michał Kwiatkowski.
Some of these riders are potential winners in their own right, but it’s Pidcock who looks like their best candidate.
BALSAMO AND BORGHINI AMONG OTHER CONTENDERS FOR THE WOMEN'S RACE
The bergs of the Tour of Flanders proved too difficult for Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo), whose three-race winning streak in the WorldTour thus came to an end, but the others can’t afford to grow complacent when it comes to making sure she’s dropped.
Her Trek-Segafredo team will have other options too, especially in Elisa Longo Borghini, who might have had the chance to go sprint for victory at last year’s edition had she opted to work with Niewiadoma after the two had broken clear on the Cauberg.
Coryn Labecki is another rider who, like Balsamo, will try to hang on for a potential group sprint, as her Jumbo-Visma team-mate and defending champion Marianne Vos is not down to ride.
A victory from an attack does however seem the most likely outcome, and there’s no shortage of riders who will be willing to give one a try. FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope especially will hope to follow up their excellent display at the Tour of Flanders, from which Marta Cavalli and Brodie Chapman will again team up having paced in the top ten.
And Amanda Spratt (BikeExchange-Jayco) may have lacked form so far this season, but will relish the terrain of a race she placed fourth at last year, while Elisa Chabbey is flying at the moment and could make a great foil for Canyon-SRAM team-mate Kasia Niewiadoma.
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