The ProTour carnival moves north to the Netherlands this weekend for the 41st running of the Amstel Gold Race, the race that goes against the notion that the Netherlands are entirely flat. The T-Mobile Team has nominated a solid and experienced line-up of classics specialists and allrounders for the hilly event, though none can be considered top favourites.
"It is a well-balanced and there is a lot of potential there," said sport and technical director Mario Kummer, who believes the inclusion of Patrik Sinkewitz, Steffen Wesemann and Sergey Ivanov gives the team options depending on how the race unfolds. "All three have shown in recent races that they have the form to do something."
This lead trio will be joined by experienced classics specialists Andreas Klier, Bram Schmitz, Matthias Kessler, Kim Kirchen and Eddy Mazzoleni on the 251 km route that criss-crosses Limburg, the hilly southern region sandwiched between Germany and Belgium.
Amstel Gold Race doesn't have the cobbled mystique of the other Northern Classics, but what it lacks in cobbles it makes up for in short, leg breaking climbs. It is the cumulative effect of 31 small ascents, none longer than 2.1 kilometres and none with a gradient steeper than one in seven, which dictates the pattern of the race. Unsurprisingly, the Amstel Gold Race is usually won by an all-rounder who outlasts his fellow breakaways on the final series of climbs.
"There's hardly five kilometres of flat road on the route and that's what makes it so difficult," said T-Mobile's directeur sportif Valerio Piva. The best known climb is the one-in-seven drag up the finishing hill, the Cauberg, which is usually the decisive point in the race and the focal point for fans. The race takes the riders up this hill three times.
"The constant changes of direction make it difficult for the riders to know where the wind is coming from. But they have to stay focused, so that they still have enough in the tank for the last assault on the Cauberg," continued Valerio Piva, who lives in Maastricht.
Thick fog turned last year's Amstel Gold into something of a ‘phantom race' for both the fans on the roadside and the TV viewers, who were deprived of pictures. In the end, Danilo di Luca (Liquigas) emerged from out of the mist to win the 30-rider sprint up the Cauberg.