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Cycling’s Classics season takes a shift away from the bone-shattering pavé and welcomes back its climbers and puncheurs for one week of unpredictable racing in northern Europe that often comes down to an on-the-line bike throw.
Just ask Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock about that: in the 2021 Amstel Gold Race, the cross-cum-road superstars could barely be separated by arguably the closest photo finish in history, the Belgian eventually being awarded the win, though Pidcock will still claim he was the rightful victor.
A year later and history repeated itself, only with two different riders: Michał Kwiatkowski and Benoît Cosnefroy, the former narrowly awarded the win.
Amstel Gold kicks off the trilogy of Ardennes Classics this Sunday, with La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège following next Wednesday and Sunday, respectively.
And what a way to begin. Amstel Gold may have the youngest history of the trio, first being held in 1966 - some 74 years after Liège - but its race annals boast a deep chronicle of memorable moments.
What makes Amstel Gold so attractive to fans and riders is the repetition of climbs: 34 of them in the men’s race and 21 in the women’s race, each coming in ever quicker succession as the races progress, combining to fatigue the peloton. In the last hour the riders are dropping into their lowest gears every six or seven minutes, with no stretch of flat road in between.
It’s why it has once again tempted the big players, including the indomitable Tadej Pogačar. Fresh from his memorable victory at the Tour of Flanders, the Slovenian will face off against riders he’s more used to sharing a stage race podium with: David Gaudu, Richard Carapaz, and Romain Bardet.
Remarkably, Annemiek van Vleuten has not won the biggest race in her homeland, the equally indefatigable champion looking to better a second and third place from recent years. Her rival will be familiar: SD Worx’s in-form Demi Vollering who has finished second in the past two years.
Both races will be shown live and ad-free on GCN+, with expert punditry and in-the-know commentary guiding you through both races as the drama unfolds.
And drama is guaranteed. Back in 2019, Mathieu van der Poel produced a performance that still ranks as one his very best. The Dutchman somehow managed to overturn a 40 second deficit to Julian Alaphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang in the final three kilometres, led a small chase group and then spectacularly pipped everyone else to the victory on the line. It was an ambush, daylight robbery, and it was incredible then as it is now, even before he picked up the first of his first four Monument wins.
It was the finest advert there has ever been for Amstel Gold, and then two years later both Van Aert and Pidcock heightened the tension even further with a sprint that could barely separate them. Spectacularly, 12 months after, the men’s race delivered another incredible finish, with Kwiatkowski beating Cosnefroy by millimetres - despite the latter celebrating triumphantly after he crossed the line, convinced he had taken the biggest win of his burgeoning career… until the photos proved otherwise.
That’s what we’ve come to expect from this most uncertain of bike races, and while we’re waiting for the fireworks to explode in this year’s races, you can trawl through GCN+’s back catalogue and watch repeats of races in years gone by, including Marianne Vos just holding off Vollering to win her one-and-only Amstel Gold trophy in 2021.
If life’s commitments mean that you can't sit down for the whole afternoon and tune in to watch the best Dutch race of the year, with GCN+ you can take the race with you wherever you are, for it is possible to stream the race on any smart device. Pause, rewind, fast forward and resume options make the race truly unmissable.
Should you only be able to watch highlights, then GCN+ puts together short, medium and longer highlights for your viewing pleasure whenever you can, while it’s also possible to catch up on GCN+’s World of Cycling show that dissects all the big talking points and will analyse who is in form ahead of the year’s fourth Monument, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a week later.
Reflecting on what seems guaranteed to be another nail-biting and gripping Sunday in the Ardennes, what better way to end the weekend than by staying with GCN+ and opting to watch a record-breaking pursuit or epic adventure film, one of dozens of exclusive and inspiring tales available to stream only on GCN+.
For the price of an Amstel Gold beer, you can get a monthly subscription to cycling’s best streaming service - without the possibility of a hangover.
You can catch all of Amstel Gold Race and the other upcoming Ardennes Classics by subscribing to GCN+ here. (Territory Restrictions May Apply).