The opening round of the Ardennes Classics – Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition - produced a nail-bitting finale in Berg en Terblijt, Valkenburg, on Sunday.
Organisers hosted the race on a closed route due to local COVID-19 restrictions and the women raced for seven laps of a 17 kilometre circuit that included the Geulhemmerberg, Bemelerberg and Cauberg climbs before the 1.8 kilometre run-in to the finish line.
Cyclingnews looks at five of the biggest takeaways from this year's Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition.
Vos checking off the boxes
It might have seemed that Vos had already won everything there is to win in women’s cycling as she embarked a new season with team Jumbo-Visma. Yet in just three weeks, she has managed to tick the victory boxes next to two she has not already won: Gent Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race.
Both races played out similarly with Vos a part of a select group in pursuit of two breakaway riders and once they were caught she went on to display an incredible turn of power and speed in the final metres to take both victories.
If winning Gent-Wevelgem in Belgium was sweet, then winning Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands was that much sweeter. The closest Vos had previously come to winning her home classic was third place in the 2019 edition.
"Since this ‘home race’ is on the calendar, winning the Amstel Gold Race has always been a big goal for me," Vos said after celebrating her victory on the podium on Sunday.
“I’ve already experienced great editions, but this is really cool. It feels different without spectators, but you notice that people care about this race. I hope we have made the people at home happy. In any case, I enjoyed it, even though it was very hard.
“It was really a very open race, which I had expected beforehand. It was a continuous race from the start with a lot of different groups that were able to get away. In the final sprint I fortunately had some energy left to finish it off. There is a really good spirit within the team and I feel completely at home.”
116km of explosive circuit racing
The Amstel Gold Race returned to the Women's WorldTour spring calendar after it was cancelled last year in April, and again in October, due to COVID-19 concerns and restrictions in the Netherlands. Race organisers were forced to make a difficult decision this year; a closed circuit or no race at all.
In the end, they opted to host the race on laps of a 17 kilometre circuit that maintained the three main climbs; Geulhemmerberg (1,000 metres at 5 per cent), Bemelerberg (900 metres at 4.5 per cent), and Cauberg (800 metres at 6.5 per cent, with a maximum of 12 per cent).
It turned out to be one of the most dynamic editions of the women’s race with an explosion of attacks from start to finish. The technical aspects of the circuit and the punchy climbs, 21 in total, offered cycling fans an aggressive style of racing.
Early attacks came from Quinty Ton (GT Krush Tunap) and Kathrin Hammes (Ceratizit-WNT), but they were caught by a large group on the second lap. Other attacks came from Trek-Segafredo’s Lucinda Brand and Audrey Cordon-Ragot, and then it was Lucy Kennedy (Team BikeExchange), Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM), Marta Bastianelli (Alé BTC Ljubljana) and Tayler Wiles (Trek-Segafredo).
Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) tore apart the race over the Cauberg with 36 kilometres to go, distancing a recently sick Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx), and she whittled the field down to a decisive front group. Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) and Pauliena Rooijakkers (Liv Racing) also made their bids on the last lap.
A dangerous move came from Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) on the last time over the Cauberg, but they were brought back just in time for the final blow from Vos, who took the victory.
Longo Borghini, Niewiadoma play losing game of cat and mouse
It all happened on the 800 metres of the Cauberg, a 6.5 per cent average grade with pitches as steep as 12 per cent. Van Vleuten attacked at the bottom but Niewiadoma, Vos and Demi Vollering (SD Worx) were on her wheel.
Then Longo Borghini bridged across. The Italian champion jumped again and Niewiadoma reconnected with her a few hundred metres later. The two powerful riders were together off the front with 1.5 kilometres to go and a healthy gap – it could have been the winning move.
SD Worx had two riders in the select chase group behind with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio burying herself for Vollering, while Vos, Van Vleuten, Mavi Garcia (Alè BTC Ljubljana) and Soraya Paladin (Liv Racing) sat on. Slightly further back, Amanda Spratt (Team BikeExchange) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) desperately tried to reconnect.
Niewiadoma did much of the pace-setting but Longo Borghini refused to take a turn. A frustrated Niewiadoma flicked her elbow signalling to Longo Borghini to pull through. The Polish rider then slowed and tried to persuade Longo Borghini with words to take a pull, but the Italian would not, and they were caught.
“To be so close to a great result and then end up so far off the podium, it hurts," Niewiadoma said.
It could have been the winning move but a game of cat and mouse ended their chances altogether.
"It’s a pity I couldn’t finish it off," said Longo Borghini, who had enough left in the tank to attempt a sprint after they were caught.
"Maybe we were looking at each other too much, and they caught us, in the end it was like this, but the team did a great job today. It was what it was, a bitter-sweet taste because I felt good and on the Cauberg I was strong. I thought we could have arrived."
New talent at SD Worx
SD Worx star veterans Anna van der Breggen and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak were not part of the finale at Amstel Gold Race. Coming to the fore when it counted were the team’s younger riders and new signings; Demi Vollering, Niamh Fisher-Black, and Anna Shackley, all led by experienced teammate Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio.
Van der Breggen will retire at the end of this season and Van den Broek-Blaak next spring, but they are preparing their younger riders as the future of the team. At Amstel Gold Race, cycling fans saw a glimpse of how the changing of the guard could work next season.
Their goal was to have four riders in the final, and they almost did. Moolman-Pasio single handedly brought back a dangerous breakaway of Niewiadoma and Longo Borghini in the last kilometre so that Vollering could have a chance to sprint for the win. Fisher-Black and Shackley, were seconds behind in the next group.
Vos jumped early and took the day’s victory but Vollering was very close to catching her at the finish line. Vollering’s second place adds to a strong series of results this spring; second at Brabantse Pijl, fifth at Tour of Flanders, and sixth at Strade Bianche. The future is looking good for the up-and-coming talents at SD Worx.
"I am not disappointed, my first place will probably come sometime," Vollering said. "I am very happy now! It's no shame to lose to Marianne. It was a very tough race and glad to be on the podium after all.”
Dutch dominance continues
The last few seasons have been dominated by Van der Breggen and Van Vleuten, and while a head-to-head rivalry did not pan out at Amstel Gold Race, it was no surprise to see a continuation of Dutch dominance.
The all-Dutch podium was this time led by Vos, runner-up Vollering, and third placed Van Vleuten in what was a thrilling finale to an aggressive race.
Amstel Gold Race is the only round of the Ardennes Classics held in the Netherlands, and an important round of the Women’s WorldTour for the Dutch riders, akin to a Dutch National Championship.
Of the seven editions of the women's Amstel Gold Race, five have been won by Dutch riders; Debby Mansveld (2001), Loentien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel (2002), Anna van der Breggen (2017), Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (2018), and Marianne Vos on Sunday. An all-Dutch podium sweep has only happened once before, in the inaugural edition, when Mansveld won ahead of Mirjam Melchers and Zijlaard-Van Moorsel.
The dominant Dutch riders of this generation have largely included Van der Breggen, Van Vleuten, Vos, and Van den Broek-Blaak, along with Ellen Van Dijk, Lucinda Brand, Kirsten Wild, and Amy Pieters, but Vollering is now showing herself as one of the nation’s rising performers.
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