This Sunday the Women's WorldTour will head to the Netherlands for the start of the Ardennes Classics. Taking place on the same day as the men's race, the women's peloton rolls out from Maastricht and finishes in Berg en Terblijt in Valkenburg for the ninth edition of the Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition.
Following a series of races that have been decided by sprint finishes or solo wins, Amstel Gold Race should finally provide a chance for the climbers among the women’s peloton to take back control.
We take a look at which riders could be in with a chance of winning this Classics race.
As the best team in the world, it feels remiss that Dutch squad SD Worx haven’t won their home WorldTour Classic, Amstel Gold, since 2018. Demi Vollering has come the closest for them in that time, finishing second in both the last two editions, missing out through being caught out by a late Marta Cavalli attack last year, and outsprinted by Marianne Vos in 2021.
Demi Vollering celebrates her victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen (Getty Images)
Vollering has already been in imperious form this season, following back-to-back victories at Strade Bianche and Dwars door Vlaanderen with back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Tour of Flanders and De Brabantse Pijl, and is in her element in these constant, punchy climbs that characterise Amstel Gold. With a more senior status within SD Worx than she had during the cobbled Classics, she’s the rider to beat.
In recent weeks, Silvia Persico (Team UAE ADQ) has started to show the form that made her one of the breakthrough riders of the 2022 season. First she was the final rider to be dropped by Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) at the Tour of Flanders, where she ultimately finished fourth. Then on Wednesday, she came out on top ahead of Vollering in the six-up sprint that decided De Brabantse Pijl.
The latter was the biggest Classic win of her career so far, and as a similar, albeit longer and harder, race, Amstel Gold would seem the obvious next step. In a race that has only once been decided by a sprint from a group larger than three since its reintroduction in 2017, Persico might need to be proactive and time an attack at the right moment rather than again rely on her quick finishing kick, but she certainly has the legs to potentially win if she gets her tactics right.
Silvia Persico came fourth at Tour of Flanders this year (Getty Images)
Annemiek van Vleuten
Things haven’t quite gone the way of the usually untouchable Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) so far this year. Having not quite had the legs to follow the winning move at Strade Bianche, a crash took her out of contention at the Tour of Flanders the following month, leaving her winless so far in 2023 — the deepest she has gone into a season without a victory since 2016.
We haven't seen the world champion at her best yet, but there is still plenty of time (Getty Images)
Van Vleuten being Van Vleuten, this drought surely won’t last much longer, and Amstel Gold is the next big goal of her season following those two Classics. Despite finishing on the podium three times, and it being a home race for her, this is one of a select few major Classics Van Vleuten hasn’t won in her career. This will be her last chance before retiring at the end of the year, and she will surely test the resolve of every other rider with more of her awesomely powerful attacks.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) always tends to be there or thereabouts in the biggest races, and of all the top Classics, Amstel Gold might be the one best suited to her. She won here in 2019 in a two-up sprint against Annemiek van Vleuten, came agonisingly close in 2021 when she and Elisa Longo Borghini were caught within the final few hundred metres, and made the selection in last year’s edition to place fifth.
The Pole’s long-standing problem has been converting her strong legs into victories, but this is a race she has previously mastered, and the Cauberg is clearly a climb that suits her attributes. Fifth at the Tour of Flanders recently suggests she has good form, so could the time at long last have come for her to end her near-four year run without a win?
Kasia Niewiadoma came fifth in last year's Amstel Gold Race (SWPix.com)
Despite endring a torrid time at Paris-Roubaix, where she spent much of the race dangling agonisingly off the back of the peloton after an unfortunately timed mechanical, Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) still managed to finish 10th by sprinting in the select leading chase group that made it to the Roubaix velodrome, suggesting that the Dutchwoman is back in form after surgery delayed the start of her road campaign.
Vos did win the last time she raced Amstel Gold in 2021, but it's tough, hilly parcours is not ideal for the kind of rider she is these days. For a repeat of that victory, she’d probably need the race to come down to a small group sprint — but in the event of a sprint there are few riders capable of beating her.
Marianne Vos made her 2023 debut at Paris-Roubaix (Getty Images)
Elisa Longo Borghini
There’s uncertainty about how Trek-Segafredo will line-up at Amstel Gold as the team has yet to announce its line-up, but whether it’s Shirin van Anrooij, Elisa Balsamo or Lucinda Brand, the team are bound to be at the front end of the race.
Of their potential participants, Elisa Longo Borghini stands out as the most experienced, and also comes into her own on punchy races like Amstel Gold. Her best finish here from her previous four appearances is only fifth, though she did come very close in 2021 when she was caught with Niewiadoma in the closing kilometres, and is coming into form having place third at the Tour of Flanders.
Elisa Longo Borghini was riding well at Paris-Roubaix this year until an unfortunate crash on the slick cobblestones (James Startt)
As defending champion, Marta Cavalli warrants a mention, but she has still yet to discover the form that saw her dominate the Ardennes Classics last year since the serious crash sustained at the Tour de France Femmes. Instead, FDJ-SUEZ’s best hopes may lie in Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig or Grace Brown.
Lotte Kopecky (SD Work) is poised to make her Amstel Gold debut, and it will be intriguing to see how she handles the hills of Limburg having been the star of the cobbled Classics. Her powerful, sprinter’s physique means she’s not an obvious fit for this more climber-friendly kind of racing, but her success at Strade Bianche suggests she might be able to stay in contention.
Pfeiffer Georgi (DSM) is another protagonist of the cobbled Classic season who’s now going to give the hilly Classics a go, although she was considerably off the pace when she tried doing so last year, placing 41st. Woman-of-the-moment Alison Jackson (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) is also set to ride, but may be both physically and mentally drained after her shock Paris-Roubaix victory.
Pfeiffer Georgi won her first WorldTour race this year at Classic Brugge-De Panne (Getty Images)
Instead, this is a race that should favour the better climbers who have been sidelined during the cobbled classics, such as Ashleigh Moolman (AG Insurance-Soudal - Quick-Step) and Mavi García (Liv Racing TeqFind).
Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl suggests that Liane Lippert (third-place) and Elise Chabbey (fourth-place) are strong deputy candidates their respective team leaders Van Vleuten and Niewiadoma, while sixth for Juliette Labous (DSM) at the Tour of Flanders.
Women's Amstel Gold Race 2023 prediction
It’s hard to decide which is the more unusual statistic: the fact that SD Worx haven’t won Amstel Gold since 2018, or the fact that Annemiek van Vleuten never has. These runs surely can’t go on much longer, and we’re backing the former to come to an end this year, with Demi Vollering carrying the form she’s shown throughout the spring to improve upon her runner-up finishes in previous editions and take victory.