Dutch national coach and Amstel Gold Race director, Leo Van Vliet, knows Limburg’s roads and hills better than anyone. He admits there’s extra pressure on him and the Dutch team at the upcoming World Championships but believes the home advantage will boost their chances of taking a first men’s world title since Joop Zoetemelk won in 1985.
Peter Cossins: This must be an extra-special World Championship for you given the tightness of your links to this region?
Leo Van Vliet: It’s going to be magical. My family took over a small hotel near the Cauberg when I was 12 years old and I could be riding up it in less than 10 minutes. In the ’70s I can remember going there to watch the Dutch championship with the likes of Zoetemelk taking part. I also won the Olympia Tour when it passed over the Cauberg and was part of the ’79 Dutch team in Valkenburg when Jan Raas took the title. For me, the Cauberg is such a monument.
PC: The race doesn’t finish at the top of the Cauberg but more than a kilometre beyond it. Will that make a difference?
LVV: I’m sure it will because Amstel’s finish on top of the Cauberg is more for puncheurs, such as Philippe Gilbert. There are likely to be more riders in contention at the finish of the Worlds. The course will still suit the riders who contend in the Ardennes Classics, because the initial 100km are tough and so is the circuit. Plus, the pace will be very fast. The weather could also make a difference as we saw back in 1998, when it was very wet and made it a much tougher race.
PC: What does your experience as Amstel race director tell you about the Worlds?
LVV: From my position in the organiser’s car at the front of the race I can see that every year more riders are in contention for victory at Amstel. That has been changing gradually over the last 30 years. The last few editions have shown that the top riders tend to wait until almost the very end rather than going from a long way out.
PC: The Dutch team must have a good chance of ending its long barren run at the Worlds this year?
LVV: We will have a huge home crowd behind us and we’ll try to deliver something special. We have riders such as Robert Gesink, Bauke Mollema and Rob Ruijgh who are suited to this kind of terrain and know the area well. I know the special feeling we had within the team back in 1979 and I’ve tried to recreate that within the current squad by getting the riders together regularly and training on the course. I think we could spring a surprise.