Traditionally viewed as the turning point of spring Classics season, as the racing shifts from the cobbles of Flanders and Roubaix to the hillier Ardennes, Amstel Gold Race takes place on Sunday April 10th 2022.
This year, the French Presidential election forced a date-swap between Paris-Roubaix and Amstel Gold Race, meaning the transition from cobbled classics to hilly classics is somewhat interrupted.
The race takes place in the Limburg province of the Netherlands, an area which defies the Dutch ‘flatland’ reputation and offers a taste of things to come in the Ardennes, later in the Spring.
Amstel Gold Race stands alone as the sole WorldTour level one-day race in the Netherlands.
The 56th edition of the men’s race is 265.7km long, with 33 bergs to conquer throughout the day. Departing from Maastricht, the race heads through towns and villages before moving out onto the country roads of Limburg, completing a series of complicated loops, with the frequency of the climbs increasing as the kilometres wear on.
The course has been criticised in the past for its rider safety; much of the race takes place along an urban route that passes through many towns and villages, with the resultant road furniture creating many obstacles for the riders to navigate.
When they’re not grappling with the logistics of numerous roundabouts, narrow country roads and awkward turns, repeated ascents of the Bemelerberg, Geulhemmerberg and the renowned Cauberg will gradually thin out the peloton as the day wears on.
Not to mention the 30th climb of the day, the Keutenberg, which at 1200m in length and with a maximum gradient of 22%, poses a massive challenge to tired riders who have already faced 29 previous ascents.
The final climb of the day for the men will be the Bemelerberg. Once the climbing is done and dusted, all that remains is a 7.3km run in to the finish line in Valkenburg, where whatever remains of the final selection may find themselves contesting a reduced bunch sprint.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, more Dutch riders have won Amstel Gold Race than any other nationality. Jan Raas won the race an historic five times (1977-1980, 1982), with the only rider to come close to him the Belgian, Phillippe Gilbert, who has won on four previous occasions (2010, 2011, 2014, 2017).
Both Gilbert and Mathieu van der Poel, the most recent Dutch winner, are on the start list for the 56th edition of the men’s race. It’s likely that Van der Poel will be among the favourites, following his return from injury, if he is able to find the kind of form that allowed him to power to victory in 2019.
Other former winners on the start list include EF Education-Easypost’s Michael Valgren, who may ride for Alberto Bettiol; the Italian has looked in good form at times this season and he possesses the kind of punchy climbing ability that could see him succeed.
Michal Kwiatkowski won the race back in 2015, but he’s not the only Ineos Grenadier with a claim to the title. Last year, Tom Pidcock was denied the win following a somewhat controversial photo finish with Wout van Aert. He lost out that day, and if he manages to shake the stomach issues that have been plaguing him, he is likely to want to right the perceived wrongs of last year’s final.
The beneficiary of last year’s notorious photo finish, Wout van Aert, will not line up to defend his title alongside his Jumbo-Visma team mates, due to a Covid-19 infection picked up on the eve of the Tour of Flanders. De Ronde was a rare misstep for Jumbo-Visma, who had been the Classics team to beat in 2022; Tom Dumoulin returns to lead the line alongside the in-form Christophe Laporte and Tiesj Benoot.
It’s been a troubled season so far for Quick-Step-Alpha Vinyl, and they may find themselves somewhat adrift once again in a race that separates the cobbled classics specialists from those who can handle the relentless climbing. Kasper Asgreen has been knocking at the door of success but without an organised unit around him he has been lacking in support. They may favour Andrea Bagioli on the day though, whose climbing form has looked strong so far this season.
Team DSM’s Søren Kragh Andersen and AG2R-Citroen’s Benoit Cosnefroy will both find themselves at home on the Dutch bergs, so keep an eye on these riders too.
We foresee a strong performance from Ineos Grenadiers, who have been slowly warming up to this year’s Classics and earned a fine second place in Flanders thanks to Dylan van Baarle. However it will be hard for them to topple the combined strength of Jumbo-Visma and the effervescent Mathieu van der Poel. Any traces of that back injury that delayed the start of his season were banished at the Tour of Flanders and the Dutchman is the undoubted hot favourite this Sunday.