The Amstel Gold Race, taking place on Sunday 18th April, is one of the most prestigious non-monuments amongst the Spring Classics, particularly for Dutch riders.
Since the race’s inception in 1966, Dutch brewer Amstel have been the lead sponsor. It’s considered the opener for the Ardennes Classics, even though it's not raced in the region. It features hilly terrain throughout, just like La Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, which take place in the days after.
Jan Raas won the race on five occasions between 1977 and 1982, whilst Philippe Gilbert has won on four separate occasions. No other rider has won more than twice.
Now a WorldTour race, the 2019 edition was one of the most exciting finishes to a cycling race you are likely to see. Julian Alaphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang stepped away with 36km to go and gained a considerable lead, before Mathieu van der Poel dragged a larger group to the breakaway before sprinting past them in the final metres of the race. It was a dramatic finish, and one which was greeted with jubilance from the home support. Van der Poel’s victory had ended an 18-year barren spell for the Netherlands.
Van der Poel had also followed in the footsteps of his father Adri, who won the race in 1990.
The route has changed substantially for the 2021 edition.
Image credit: La Flamme Rouge
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organisers have decided to create a short, closed circuit just west of Maastricht which will make up the entire race. The circuit is 16.5km long and the riders will endure thirteen laps to make up a total distance of 218km.
This makes the race much shorter than recent years, in 2019 the race was 265km in distance.
However, that doesn’t mean the route isn’t as challenging as ever. The circuit includes the Bemelerberg, Geulhemmerberg and Cauberg, all of which are synonymous with Amstel. The Cauberg is perhaps the most demanding climb, featuring percentages over 10%. The climbs may be short, but the repetitions mean those that finish will have climbed over 3100 metres across the day, whilst descending a similar distance — the winner must be adept at both.
In 2019, the riders climbed 13.1 metres per kilometre, in 2021 there are 14.2 metres climbed per km. This makes it one for the punchers and climbers.
Primož Roglič makes his debut at the Amstel Gold Race (Image credit: Presse Sports / Offside)
Considering the route and additional climbing this year, there is one name that stands out on the startlist: Primož Roglič. The Slovenian proved that he is more than a stage-racer when he won Liege-Bastogne-Liege last season, the first monument in his career. The finish was controversial with Alaphilippe hampering Hirschi and Pogacar, but nothing can be taken away from Roglic. He has continued to perform at an extreme level in 2021, he won three stages at Paris-Nice in March before having the GC cruelly taken from him after crashing in the final stage. He’s one of the best climbers in the world and has a great sprint, he starts as a favourite.
Partnering Roglič is Wout Van Aert. The 26-year-old Belgian altered his schedule after the postponement of Paris-Roubaix, adding Brabanste Pijl and Amstel Gold. Van Aert won Gent-Wevelgem earlier this year but was unable to perform at the supreme level we've all become accustomed to at the Tour of Flanders. Jumbo-Visma may look to attack early with Roglič which would allow Van Aert to sit in the wheels behind.
Wout Van Aert (Image credit: Alex Broadway/SWpix)
The INEOS Grenadiers have never won the Amstel Gold Race, yet start with one of the most exciting prospects in the peloton. Tom Pidcock has started his neo-pro season in fine fashion, he was on the podium at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and in the top-5 at a top-tier Strade Bianche. More recently he beat Wout Van Aert to claim his first professional win at Brabantse Pijl. The parcours at AGR suits the Brit well, he is a strong puncher and a confident descender, something that was clear on the Poggio at Milan-San Remo. The Grenadiers also have former Giro winner Richard Carapaz, Laurens de Plus and Eddie Dunbar. With many options they have tactical flexibility, but Pidcock remains their first-choice.
Julian Alaphilippe has been the best puncher in the world for some time now. The Amstel Gold Race suits him supremely — it features steep ramps for him to escape on and lots of downhill sections. After watching his teammate Kasper Asgreen win at the Tour of Flanders, the Frenchman will be keen to add to his win tally in 2021. He has finished in the top-10 in his last four appearances at the race but is still looking for a podium. Do not be surprised to see the rainbow bands there this season.
Will Alejandro Valverde ever age? Well, there have been signs lately with a lacklustre UAE Tour and Strade Bianche this season. However, Valverde looked exquisite on the Vallter 2000 at the Volta Catalunya, only finishing behind Adam Yates and a rejuvenated Esteban Chaves. He followed that by winning the Gran Premio Miguel Indurain for the third occasion, a race which features similar parcours to Amstel this year. AGR is one of the few races Valverde is yet to win in his illustrious career, despite being on the podium three times and as recently as 2015 where he was beaten by World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski in a sprint. Could we witness something spectacular from Valverde, who turns 41 a week after the race?
Alejandro Valverde (Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)
The cycling world was shocked when Marc Hirschi announced he’d be joining UAE Team Emirates this year. He suffered hip issues which put back his 2021 campaign to the Volta Catalunya. The Swiss is just finding his form, but if he finds it in time for AGR he’ll take some beating. UAE have a strong lineup too, with Matteo Trentin a good secondary option, whilst Alessandro Covi, Mikkel Bjerg and the Oliveira twins are all under-25 and very talented.
Hirschi left Team DSM for UAE, but DSM have new objectives and leaders this year. Romain Bardet has started a new chapter in his career and is among the contenders for this one. Tiesj Benoot is another option for Team DSM, though neither are the best sprinters so they should try to break clear if they can. We are intrigued to see how neo-pro Kevin Vermaerke gets on too. The 20-year-old was given a contract until 2023, a sign of faith by Team DSM. The hilly terrain should suit the American.
Jakob Fuglsang opted to skip the Tour of Flanders to focus on the Ardennes this season. He won Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2019 and is among the premier riders in the peloton when it comes to hilly terrain. He is yet to win in 2021, but this could be his best chance yet.
How to Watch the Race
The race will be shown live on Eurosport and GCN+ for UK viewers from 1pm GMT.
Image credit: Alex Broadway/SWpix