The Amstel Gold Race marks the start of the Ardennes Classics, with the rolling 251-kilometre route over the Limburg hills in the southern region of the Netherlands offering a perfect transition from the cobbled spring Classics to the hillier races of late April.
Amstel Gold Race is arguably neither one nor the other; it has short climbs but no cobbles, twisting country roads but nothing long or super steep like in the deepest Belgian Ardennes. It is different, difficult and unique.
The racing on Sunday will be different, too, and so will be some of the big contenders, with Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) joining Tom Pidcock and Dylan Van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers), Kasper Asgreen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) as they try to take on Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix).
The Dutchman has roared back into form in recent weeks and won the Tour of Flanders. He surely wants to add a second Amstel Gold Race to his palmarès after winning in 2019 with that now legendary late charge and sprint that saw him surge past all his rivals.
Van der Poel’s long-time rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), last year's winner, is absent after catching COVID-19 before the Tour of Flanders but plenty of big-name contenders and on-form outsiders are ready to take on his role of Van der Poel’s nemesis and perhaps add their names on the race's roll of honour.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix)
Van der Poel has enjoyed a low-profile week of celebrations after winning the Tour of Flanders, keen to maintain his form and focus for the Amstel Gold Race and then on to Paris-Roubaix.
Just a few weeks ago, Van der Poel’s spring campaign seemed unlikely. Now it could be a triumph if he can stay healthy and perform at his best.
The Alpecin-Fenix leader made a surprise early return to racing at Milan-San Remo two weeks ago and has just got better and better. He mixed training with aggressive racing and won a stage at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, and was again on the top step of the podium at Dwars door Vlaanderen after an aggressive race.
He was the only one able to go with Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) when the Slovenian attacked at the Tour of Flanders and then held his nerve in the final kilometre and still won the sprint. Those kinds of performances and victories give you confidence.
Van der Poel has already proven he is far more than a cobbled Classics rider and so should feel equally confident for the Amstel Gold Race. He can survive the 33 climbs as well as anyone, has the tactical skills to march the best, and a sprint finish to finish off the job. He really is the rider to beat.
Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers)
The Yorkshire rider had hoped to target all the spring Classics, from Strade Bianche through to Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but illness has set him back and disrupted the first part of his campaign. The Amstel Gold Race could be a turning point, with Pidcock arguably better suited to the climbs of the Ardennes than the cobbles of Flanders and northern France.
On his debut last year, he was immediately competitive and was only beaten by Van Aert in the tightest of sprints a few days after beating him at De Brabantse Pijl.
Pidcock appears to be over his digestion problems and loves a fight and an aggressive race. With Van Baarle again a high-quality co-leader and with Ben Turner, Michał Kwiatkowski and Luke Rowe as support, Ineos Grenadiers have a team to take on Van der Poel and perhaps beat him.
Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma)
In the absence of Van Aert, Jumbo-Visma will field the talented combo of Christophe Laporte and Tiesj Benoot, with Dumoulin and Mike Teunissen in their team, too. If the Amstel Gold Race is decided in a sprint, then Laporte is Jumbo-Visma’s best chance and a possible winner.
The Frenchman has improved massively this season after joining Jumbo-Visma, playing a leading role behind Van Aert on the cobbles and placing second at E3 and Gent-Wevelgem. He crashed at the Tour of Flanders and struggled to follow Pogacar but still bagged a place in the top 10.
He and Benoot perhaps struggled to adjust at Flanders after the loss of their leader to COVID-19 but they have a little more clarity here. As ever, Laporte is the one who can compete in a sprint from whatever size of group, and he's been among the best on the climbs so far this spring, too. The level of climbing at Amstel will stretch him but, given the form he has shown, he can handle it. Van der Poel should not underestimate him.
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious)
The Slovenian pulled off a shock victory at Milan-San Remo, in part due to his clever use of a dropper seat post. He was not able to make a similar impact in the cobbled Classics but his multitude of talents makes him a contender in the Ardennes.
He has often switched between the cobbles and the Ardennes, adjusting his weight, power and race programme, and this year - like Van der Poel and Pidcock - he appears able to win them all.
His sprint is weaker than his biggest rivals but he is race-smart and mature at 27. He finished fourth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège two years ago and so can handle the hills of the Amstel Gold Race - not to mention the twisting descents.
Bahrain Victorious also have the versatile Dylan Teuns, who was sixth at the Tour of Flanders, Fred Wright, who was seventh, and Jan Tratnik, who was 12th. Jack Haig comes in to add climbing power and other options. That is strength in numbers.
Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco)
The classy 31-year-old Australian has won the Grand Prix Cycliste Québec, the Grand Prix Cycliste Montréal, and the Bretagne Classic over the years and so the hard finale and select sprint finish of the Amstel Gold Race seem ideal for him.
After finishing in third in 2015, fourth and fifth in other years, and with multiple other top-15 results, Matthews heads to Maastricht with a sense of unfinished business as he returns to the race this year.
Matthews was fourth at Milan-San Remo and then won a stage at the Volta a Catalunya before crashing and quitting the race. But he is a fighter and finished 11th at the Tour of Flanders.
The Amstel Gold Race is far more his thing and he deserves his place amongst the Cyclingnews big five contenders.
Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates)
The Swiss rider delayed the start of his season to undergo hip surgery, but he showed few signs of rustiness when he won Per Sempre Alfredo on his first outing last month. He proceeded to place third overall at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali and record top-10 finishes at GP Industria and a tough GP Miguel Indurain.
Hirschi endured a difficult opening season at UAE Team Emirates after his mysterious transfer from Team DSM, but he showed signs of form in the closing weeks of the campaign. If he can come anywhere close to his remarkable form of 2020, he will be in the mix at Amstel Gold Race and in the Ardennes Classics later in the month.
Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ)
Over the past couple of seasons, Madouas has diverted his attention towards the cobbles, and the Breton showcased his ability on the terrain this spring, not only with his fine third place at the Tour of Flanders, but also with assured showings at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Dwars door Vlaanderen.
Earlier in his career, however, Madouas seemed to be earmarked for the Ardennes Classics, and he hinted at his potential with 8th place in the remarkable 2019 edition of Amstel Gold Race. Now 25, Madouas has stepped up a level this Spring and he arrives in the Netherlands riding a wave of confidence from his Ronde podium.
Benoït Cosnefroy (AG2R Citroën)
Victory at the Bretagne Classic and bronze in the European Championships last year felt like a breakthrough for Cosnefroy, who has long demonstrated his potential on this kind of terrain.
e was to the fore again in the Drôme Classic in February, placing third, and although he made little impact at Tirreno-Adriatico, his second place overall at the Circuit de la Sarthe suggested his form is rising just in time for the main appointments of his Spring.
Cosnefroy’s record at Amstel Gold Race is underwhelming, and he missed the race altogether last year due to injuries, but his aggressive instincts could stand him in good stead here, particularly if teams are reluctant to take responsibility for controlling the race.
Søren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM)
Team DSM have had, by any metric, a most disappointing start to 2022. Sam Welsford’s podium at Scheldeprijs aside, most of the bright moments have been provided by Andersen, whose enterprise and aggression has not yet been rewarded by a victory to match.
The Dane caught the eye at Paris-Nice, first with a daredevil attack on the descent of Col d'Espigoule on stage 6 and then with a strong showing on the tumultuous final stage. He carried that attitude into Milan-San Remo, where he attacked over the top of the Poggio en route to seventh on the Via Roma.
A week later, he clipped away from the bunch for fifth at Gent-Wevelgem, reeling in a crucial haul of points for his team. Illness ultimately forced Andersen to miss the Tour of Flanders, although, oddly, he had only been added to the line-up as a late replacement. Despite being their best hope at Flanders, the team felt he was better suited to Amstel and the Ardennes and wanted to tailor his preparations fully.
It remains to be seen how his form is affected by his illness.
Iván García Cortina (Movistar)
The Gijon native is that rarity, a Spaniard with a penchant for racing the northern Classics, but he is yet to live up to his considerable potential in this domain. There were, however, signs of form on the cobbles, most notably when he took eighth at Gent-Wevelgem, and he is another rider who can benefit from a chaotic race.
García Cortina has never finished Amstel Gold Race in three previous participations, but he demonstrated his aptitude for long, hilly races with third place at the GP de Montréal in 2019. Early in his career, the Movistar man availed of his decent turn of speed to notch up WorldTour wins at the Tour of California and Paris-Nice, but he has now gone over two years without a victory.
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.
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