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The Road Book's Amstel Gold Race 2024 Preview

The Road Book's Amstel Gold Race 2024 Preview

The Flemish cobbles have brought much entertainment, even if it was, quite simply, the Mathieu van der Poel show. With those little mean squares of stone now behind the peloton, we move on to the Ardennes Classics with The Amstel Gold Race. The youngest of the classics, born only in 1966, but undeniably one of the most entertaining, the cobbles specialists and sprinters make way for the puncheurs and climbers as we hit the steep slopes which characterise the Ardennes races. Even if this one does take place in the Limburg province of the Netherlands.



We have been privy to some truly astounding victories at this race, from Mathieu van der Poel’s (riding for Alpecin-Fenix at the time) almost impossible comeback in the 2019 edition, seemingly beaten by Julian Alaphilippe (then at Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Jakob Fuglsang (then Astana Pro Team) before dragging himself back into contention through sheer determination as the two leaders played games; to Tadej Pogačar’s (UAE Team Emirates) remarkable 30km solo attack last year. The succession of steep climbs (33 for the men, and 21 for the women) tend to splinter the peloton, and if the pace of the rest of the classics is matched, then the races will very quickly be shattered into a thousand small groups. The route this season has been slightly altered as the organisers aim to help long-ranged attacks stick. Aside from Pogačar’s solo effort, the last few editions of the race have come down to a couple of riders, or a small group, entering onto the finishing straight with just a few hundred metres between them and the chasing pack. Whilst this provides its own entertainment, they seem to want a slightly less predictable finish. Though this alteration may just further encourage van der Poel to blow away his competition earlier, as he has done at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in recent weeks, cementing his name as one of the greatest classics riders in recent memory, if not ever. Only a few riders have won the competition more than once, including Jan Raas (5 times), Philippe Gilbert (4 wins), Merckx and INEOS Grenadiers’ Kwiatkowski who also returns this season, though we think van der Poel will add his name to that illustrious list.


Men’s Route

The men will roll out at 10:45 local time, covering a 255.2km route from Maastricht to Valkenberg. The first of the 33 climbs will rear its head afore the peloton after just 12km of racing, and by the end the riders will be as sick of hills as we’re sure they are of cobbles.

There are a few truly crucial climbs on the route including the absolutely horrific 22% Keutenberg on whose slopes Pogačar devastated Ben Healy (EF-Education EasyPost) and Tom Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers) last year, despite having to change his bike beforehand due to a slow puncture. An attack on the contours of this hill is particularly effective as it is immediately followed by one of the race’s signature features: the Cauberg. This constant feature of the race is only 800m long, but with an average gradient of 6.5% ranging to a peak of 12.8% any attack which continues from the Keutenberg is unlikely to be caught as most riders simply can’t sustain that level of explosive power with such little recovery time. Though there is at least one Dutchman who might be capable of such a feat this year.



The Cauberg is ridden twice, first with 81km to go, and finally with 18km to go. Since 2017, it has been quickly followed by the Geulhemmerberg and the Bemelerberg. Both are challenging climbs in their own right, both close to 1km in length and with an average gradient of 5%, especially so after 200km of intense, fast paced pedalling. It is on one of these slopes, which we expect the winner to launch their final attack. If they can successfully snap that invisible elastic attaching them to the pack, then this almost unique succession of short but steep hills can be enough to keep even a chasing group led by the very best at bay. For those who wish to curtail van der Poel’s almost unstoppable form, an early attack after a hard, fast race will be the best option. It may be that a combined 105km of solo riding may just start to show itself in the legs of the Dane, as even his reserves of energy must be drained. Alternatively, if one team can put themselves in a strong position, wearing down the World Champion’s supporting teammates, and isolating him amongst them on these later climbs, then a succession of attacks might allow a couple of riders to get far enough up the road that they are uncatchable. That being said, the gap between leaders and chasing group has not been large in recent years. Furthermore, van der Poel’s Alpecin-Deceuninck have been astute in their racing, placing Philipsen in a particularly threatening position of the back of a Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) led chasing group at Paris-Roubaix and it will take some truly exceptional riding to catch them out before the wide finishing straight of the Franse Steeg.


Women’s Route

In this 10th edition of the Amstel Gold Ladies Race, the route is almost identical to 2023’s edition, 157.4km long with 21 short but sharp climbs. The chief characteristic of the course is the 18km finishing circuit featuring 13 climbs and ridden 4 times anchored on the triple-threat of the Geulhemmerberg, Bemelerberg and the Cauberg. This last and iconic climb then features for a 5th and final time, before a 1.8km sprint to the finish. No rider has won the race more than once within the women’s peloton, though the list of winners is legendary including Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Kasia Niewiadoma, Marianne Vos, Marta Cavalli and Demi Vollering, several of whom return this weekend.

The Cauberg is where the decisive move has been made in each of the most recent seasons, Vollering used the crest of this climb as a launch pad last year after a succession of attacks were reeled in, finishing only a few seconds ahead of the peloton. Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) used a similar tactic in 2022, in what was the most prestigious victory of her promising career, whilst Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) outsprinted a rampaging Demi Vollering by a hair’s breadth after Elisa Longo-Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) made the tactically bizarre decision to not work with Canyon//SRAM’s Niewiadoma after the pair had launched clear on the final contours of the Cauberg. Although the approach to the final climb has been slightly altered, taking the riders down the narrow Mathieu van der Poel Allee after the Bemelerberg, it is likely the Cauberg will once again be the launch pad. With lots of twists, turns and the potential for crashes in the group on the winding and narrow Dutch roads, a riders best bet is to stay as close to the front of the peloton as possible. Once the day’s break has been reeled in, any remaining teammates should be used to launch their attack on the Cauberg before attempting to disrupt any intrepid efforts at bridging across.



Men’s Riders to Watch

With no Pogačar, the Slovenian opting to focus on his dual Grand Tour attempt and at defending his Liège-Bastogne-Liège title instead, and with a slew of big name riders such as Remco-Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick-Step) and Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease a bike) out injured, the list of favourites is graced by an interesting selection of riders.



Top of the list is, unsurprisingly, Mathieu van der Poel. The Alpecin-Deceuninck rider has had the spring of a lifetime, vital to teammate and compatriot Jasper Philipsen’s Milan-Sanremo victory and launching a series of staggering solo attacks at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, the World Champion is clearly feeling good. His punchy power and metronomic riding style are assets in this race, and he has pedigree on this hallowed home tarmac. His comeback win in 2019 is one of the greatest underdog performances we have ever seen, van der Poel doggedly refusing to give-up in the face of what seemed to be an overwhelming lead for Alaphilippe and Fuglsang. This determination is typical of van der Poel, and though we don’t expect him to be forced into a similar situation, he will be the rider to beat this weekend. If Alpecin-Deceuninck can replicate their Paris-Roubaix tactics, with van der Poel off the front with a distance to go, whilst Jasper Philipsen loiters threateningly in the chasing group, they will put every other team in a very difficult position: chase the van der Poel down at the risk of putting a relatively fresh Philipsen in perfect spot for a sprint victory, with the World Champion to lead him out. It’s also well worth picking up a copy of The Road Book 2019 to read all about his famous victory:




Another team with some serious pedigree at this race is INEOS Grenadiers. With former winner Michał Kwiatkowski (2022 and 2015) lending his considerable talent and experience to Pidcock’s punchy style, honed in battle with van der Poel on the muddy tracks of Cylco-cross. Pidcock finished second in 2021 on his debut appearance at the race, and third last year, simply unable to match Pogačar’s power. The British team haven’t made quite the impact they would’ve hoped for so far this Spring, but this could be the race when it all comes together for them.

Team Visma-Lease a bike were expected to dominate the classics for a second season running, but a poorly timed and unfortunate streak of injuries has caused the Dutch team to struggle. Tiesj Benoot (3rd at Amstel Gold in 2022), Dylan van Baarle (Paris-Roubaix winner in 2022) and overall victor at Paris-Nice Matteo Jorgenson form a strong, if not full-strength roster. The boys in black and yellow will need a stellar team performance to replicate their victories on Opening Weekend, but we expect them to run van der Poel close. Lidl-Trek have looked the closest to breaking van der Poel’s classics stranglehold, but with them missing leader Mads Pedersen’s intrepid efforts they will struggle. They will line up with a wealth of punchy talent including Danish Champion Mattias Skjelmose, US Champion Quinn Simmons, Jacopo Mosca and Latvian rider Toms Skujins (who came second at Strade-Bianche) but similarly to Visma-Lease a bike, they will need all their talent to combine perfectly if they hope to achieve victory.

Amongst the rest of the peloton, Irishman Ben Healy finished second last year for EF-Education-EasyPost with a mightily impressive display and he is one, alongside Bahrain-Victorious’ Fred Wright and UAE Team Emirates Joao Almeida, that we will be watching closely. Each are fine riders in their own rights, with strong teams to back them up and a stroke of good fortune, we expect them to finish high up the rankings.


Women’s Riders to Watch

Just as Paris-Roubaix Femmes was a closer fought race than the men’s equivalent, we expect Amstel Gold Ladies to go right down to the wire, with a wealth of talent on display.

SD-Worx seem to have finally sorted out some of the issues amongst their squad, with Lotte Kopecky playing a taking cunning, patient and tactical victory on the cobbles last weekend. The World Champion will roll out on Sunday morning alongside the full broadside of SD-Worx’s guns, those being reigning champion Demi Vollering and lighting fast Lorena Wiebes. If that veritable battery of talent can unleash the devastating barrage of attacks of which they are capable, then we can expect to see a smoking crater where the hopes of the peloton once were. Though reaching that delicate balance of each superstar’s desire for victory has been far from simple this season for what has to be one of the most stacked rosters in any sport.

Marianne Vos was the victor here in 2021 and seemed very strong at Paris-Roubaix last weekend. Her Visma-Lease a bike will be riding in support of the greatest rider of all time, and with the short but steep climb to a relatively straight finish suiting her capacity for an explosive sprint, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Vos make it 251 career wins. Similarly, Canyon//SRAM have a previous winner on their start list in Katarzyna Niewiadoma who took victory in 2019 and was denied the chance to sprint for at least second by Elisa Longo-Borghini’s (who will also be back for Lidl-Trek this season) slightly strange refusal to work alongside her in those crucial final few metres. Despite a fallow few seasons, the Polish great looks to be almost back to her best and having proved already how strong she can be on the Cauberg, look to see her in that finishing group.



Talented young Brit Pfeiffer Georgi (DSM-Firmenich PostNL) and Ellen van Dijk (Lidl-Trek) both performed excellently at Paris-Roubaix. The former was in tears after her impressive 3rd place finish, dragging Elisa Balsamo (Lidl-Trek) back to the leading group through sheer force of will and with a little bit of luck we might see the British Champion go at least one better this year. Though her sprint is slightly weaker than her main competitors, an attack on the crest of the Cauberg might just get her enough of a gap to achieve victory. Three-time ITT World Champion van Dijk put in a display full of elan and vigour, as she relentlessly attacked the cobbles time and again, putting the wealth of talent in the peloton in serious difficulty as they attempted to hold onto her wheel. If the Dutch rider is feeling strong again, there is no doubt she will electrify the race. Expect her to attack early again, and an attack on the Cauberg may similarly suit her riding style.


Once the annoying distraction of the cycling is finished, we can finally get down to the real entertainment of the day: which of our 6 podium riders can down their half-pint of Amstel the fastest. 

Read about every past edition of the race since 2018 by picking up a copy of The Road Book here: https://theroadbook.co.uk/collections/all-products

Written by Henrik Bassett

Images courtesy of Russ Ellis

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