For the first time since 2003 Amstel Gold Race has changed its finale. Back then the finish of the Dutch spring classic was moved from the Maas river banks in Maastricht to the top of the Cauberg in Valkenburg. This year’s change is not quite as dramatic as the 2003 switch. It can’t be compared to what happened with the Ronde van Vlaanderen either which left out some of its crucial climbs. Due to the modification, the Cauberg remains important as the final climb but the precluding climbs are now closer to the Cauberg.
Dutch radio NOS journalist Gio Lippens told Cyclingnews that the course is actually not new but rather a return to the old course, explaining that the roads were also used for the world championships of 1998 in Valkenburg when Swiss rider Oscar Camenzind finished solo ahead of Peter Van Petegem, World Cup winner Michele Bartoli and Lance Armstrong.
Most of the Amstel Gold Race parcours remains the same, with the tiny twisting roads and 31 climbs all still featuring in the 256,5 km long race. After 245 km of riding loops through the hills of the Limburg region the riders reach the top of the Keutenberg after which they ride on a plateau for several kilometers. Following this plateau the riders dive towards the town of Valkenburg where the finish lays on top of the Cauberg. The 2012 modification was made between the plateau and the foot of the Cauberg. Instead of turning left after the plateau the riders now take the Daalhemerweg straight down to Valkenburg where they no longer have to ride a loop through town. The result is that the distance between the top of the Keutenberg – which includes an incredibly steep section with a gradient of 22 per cent - and the foot of the Cauberg diminished to less than ten kilometers.
Race organizer and course designer Leo van Vliet explained to Cyclingnews that he modified the course to encourage the attacks and make the finale more exciting.
“We’re always driving just ahead of the riders and in the past I’ve seen several attacks on the Keutenberg but those men always struggled on those kilometers ahead of the Cauberg. To encourage the attackers I’ve modified the last part of the Amstel Gold Race. We dropped the Sibbergrubbe and we also figured that it wasn’t necessary to make the loop through Valkenburg so we dropped that as well. The result is that we took out two kilometers of flat roads. The riders will now hit the Cauberg immediately after the descent of the Keutenberg.”
The finale becomes a tiny bit harder as the last five climbs of the day are now being stuffed into a space of only 22 instead of 24 kilometers. It’s clear that the new course will benefit stronger riders who want to avoid a group sprint up the Cauberg. Last year Andy Schleck was the one who went solo, the years before Alexandre Kolobnev gave it a shot but both of them were caught back halfway up the Cauberg. The modification isn’t good news for the best uphill sprinters like Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC). There will be less time for riders to recover at the back of a group on the flat roads to Valkenburg. There will also be less time for riders to move back up, no longer allowing teams to regroup and set-up a pursuit like the Omega Pharma-Lotto team did for eventual winner Philippe Gilbert last year.