By David Hunter
Valkenberg > Berg En Terblijt 216km
Welcome to the new Amstel Gold.
The route has been changed due to COVID regulations, and we’re left with a race I’m not too sure about. We now have a lap circuit featuring three climbs, although the Cauberg isn’t in the final lap.
We start with the Geulhemmerberg, 1.4km at 4.6%. This is not hard.
The organisers have continued to try and use narrow roads, this does help to make the race difficult to control. This stretch comes between the Geulhemmerberg and Bemelerberg.
The Bemelerberg is 900m at 5.2%. This is not hard.
The Cauberg, 800m at 7.5%. This is hard.
With just 3km to go the bunch go down this tiny little country lane. If riders have a gap to the chasing bunch this section is great news, it really is very narrow and hard to get a fast chase flowing. If the bunch is relatively big at this point, positioning will obviously be important. This section of road only features in the final lap.
Cloudy and temperatures will only be around 10 degrees. The wind will be light, coming from the north.
What type of race does the peloton want to have? The race is shorter than before. It’s lacking the challenging climbs that usually blow out the sprinters and domestiques. With “only” 3000m of climbing, this is a day the quick men will be eyeing. It’s probably their only chance to win the Amstel Gold.
On the other hand the racing is likely to be very intense. Without much of a gap between the climbs, and some narrow roads, this is a very hard race to hold together. Only a couple of teams have genuine sprint options, most teams will be keen on attacking and making this a selective race. The climbs aren’t the hardest in the world, but it’s all to do with how they are raced.
I would expect to see teams lining up to try and take chunks out of each other. With very few sprint options, most teams will want to attack and use the climbs to put domestiques into difficulty, but just how selective can they make the race? Most teams will be very interested in testing the legs of Van Aert, he’s the big danger for the others.
The Form Guide
Who’s hot – Roglič, Vingegaard, Van Aert, Pidcock, Stuyven, Van Avermaet, Gaudu, Aranburu, Valverde and Trentin.
Remember, those who have shown good form in recent races might be a little tired. Those who have recently had a break will be approaching this spell with some freshness. We also have those who have performed well in the Flemish races going up against those who’ve raced a different schedule before the Ardennes. Form is important, but it isn’t everything in this race.
DS Cycling Mole
After a spell on Mount Teide, DS Cycling Mole is refreshed and ready for the Ardennes week. After recent success in Paris-Nice, he’s back in charge of Team Jumbo-Visma.
Right gentleman, gather round. This is our race; the pressure is on. I want Sammy, Lenny, Bobby and old man Martens to patrol the majority of the race. Make sure an easy break gets away and then we just ride tempo. Other teams will come to the front and make the pace, we don’t have to.
In the last three laps we’ll start to see the attacks. Prima Donna and Vinny, you cover the moves, but do not work. Sit on the back and shake your head, that will really piss everyone off. Wout, this one’s for you. In recent races you’ve been doing too much work, look at the team we have today, you won’t have to put your nose in the wind until the final lap. Now get out there and win this bloody race!
Jumbo-Visma – they arrive at their home race with three riders in brilliant form: Van Aert, Roglič and Vingegaard. This gives them plenty of options, which is important considering the race could be quite unpredictable. Van Aert is riding his last race of a challenging block, how much energy does he have left? Some will tell you he’s not in form, those people deserve a slap to the face. Okay, he’s not won since Gent-Wevelgem, but his level of consistency has been astonishing in 2021. Wout has raced 13 times this year, his worst finish was 13th, that was a breakaway stage in Tirreno. He would have been disappointed not to win De Brabantse Pijl, I think he simply mistimed his sprint, going too early. This race is big for the team, they don’t get many opportunities to win on home soil. Roglič and Vingegaard were flying in the Basque Country, both provide strong options for the team. Given the 3 riders they have, the team start as the favourite to win the race.
Julian Alaphilippe – his recent results haven’t been great; he’s not had the legs he would have hoped for. After Flanders he’s had a little break, this week is very important for him. Alaphilippe can be very hard to predict, he can sometimes peak when you really don’t expect it. The route is good for him, he’s one of the best in the world on punchy climbs. Deceuninck – Quick Step aren’t as strong as normal, it’s a real shame that Honoré had to pull out the race. It’s unlikely Alaphilippe will win, but he can’t be written off.
Tom Pidcock – took a brilliant win on Wednesday, he got it spot on. As the race is a little shorter than usual, it brings him into my list of contenders. Despite his age he is one of the men to beat in this race, but Ineos also have a few other contenders. Michał Kwiatkowski is just back from altitude, he could be flying, and the route suits him well. Ineos look strong.
Michael Matthews – crashed very hard on Wednesday, I’m not sure how he’ll go here. On paper, this is a good race for him, but it does depend on how he’s recovered after hitting the deck in De Brabantse Pijl.
Matteo Trentin – another rider who impressed on Wednesday. The Italian has performed well this season, but he’s still without a win. As the race is slightly easier than previous editions, he’s the type of rider who could benefit from it. Winning will be tough, but he has the form.
Marc Hirschi – he doesn’t have the form. He raced the Basque Country in support of Pogačar and in the hope of getting his legs going, but he didn’t really impress. After being so amazing in 2020, I wonder when we’ll start to see him fly this year. Could it be this week?
Alejandro Valverde – he’s got the form, but winning this race has always been very difficult for him. He’s raced here on 13 occasions; his best was 2nd place in 2013 and 2015. Can he really beat the best in the world at 40 years of age?
Max Schachmann – a good race for the German, but winning will be hard. He was very strong in Paris-Nice, before doing okay in the Basque Country. His team doesn’t look overly strong, which will be an issue deep into the race. He’ll need amazing legs and a large slice of luck to win.
Bahrain – they have multiple options for this one: Mohorič, Teuns and Colbrelli. Back in 2012 Mohorič won the junior world championship on a similar route to this one, he’ll provide a good option in this race. Teuns has shown good form this year, but he’s yet to land a big result. Colbrelli provides a strong sprint option, but can he survive all the climbs?
Astana – another team with multiple options: Fuglsang, Lutsenko and Aranburu. Their main options aren’t in top form yet, but that could happen during this week. Both Fuglsang and Lutsenko (won the under 23 worlds here in 2013)should like this race, and Aranburu is a rider who has impressed recently. They look strong to me, but maybe not strong enough to win.
DSM – they line up with Benoot and Kragh as their main riders. Both will enjoy the route, and they ride well together. After such a brilliant 2020, they only have one win this season. Tiesj has recently been over in Spain, he should be better than in previous races, where he was still recovering from illness.
With Roglič and Vingegaard looking to anchor the moves I think we’ll see a win for Wout Van Aert.
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