As he heads into the Ardennes week, Swiss star Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) has compared the re-designed Amstel Gold Race route to the Canadian WorldTour races, and he believes it could even come down to a sprint.
The last edition of Amstel Gold Race in 2019 saw the win taken by Mathieu van der Poel in a 10-rider sprint after a remarkable chase. But this time, even with a radically redesigned route, Hirschi feels Sunday could witness a similar kind of finale.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Netherlands’ premier one-day race will consist of 13 bigger laps of a closed circuit, starting in Valkenburg and ending in Berg en Terblijt, taking in 12 ascents of the emblematic Cauberg along the way.
Hirschi was asked in a press conference on Saturday if he thought the redesigned route had turned Amstel Gold into a kermesse or if it remained a true Ardennes Classic.
“I think it will be a little bit like the Canada races [the GP Montréal and Québec], where things stay together until three laps to go, and then when everybody’s a little bit tired, the race will actually start,” said Hirschi.
“So it’ll be very important to save energy in the first part, and for sure then it’s always good to be in position. I’d say it’ll be possible for the guys who did the Flemish Classics to do a good race there.
“I think it’ll be quite open. For sure [Primož] Roglič is one of the big favourites, but I think for me the biggest ones are the guys who have a good sprint, because I think it’s possible that it could come down to that. So for sure, Wout [van Aert] and those guys are the favourites as well.”
As for his own expectations, last year’s winner of Flèche Wallonne and runner-up in Liège-Bastogne-Liège was cautious, saying he’s not, yet, in “top, top form.” Hirschi has ridden Amstel once, back as a neo-pro in 2019, when he finished 54th.
Set to race on Sunday alongside teammate Matteo Trentin, who recently finished on the podium of Brabantse Pijl, Hirschi said that they had not yet discussed how he and the Italian would approach Amstel.
“We haven’t talked tactics yet, but it’s always good to have several riders there with options and then we have to race on instinct. We can help each other following attacks, work together, then kill the race.”
In many ways, though, rather than Amstel, the spotlight will be on Hirschi in the two Belgian Ardennes Classics. He is the defending champion at Flèche Wallonne and placed second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège last year.
Asked for a description of how best to approach Flèche’s finale on the Mur de Huy, which has decided the race on all bar one occasion in the last 20 years, Hirschi said: “Being as fresh as possible is really important, so during the last kilometres before the climb you shouldn’t use up unnecessary energy and you should try riding on wheels.
“Then on the Mur itself, it’s mostly on feeling, you don’t have time to look at your power, you just have to decide to follow the attacks or not.
“Looking at the last few races, it’s important not to go too early and to have good position, so you do not have to try to gain too many positions on the climb.”
Move to UAE Team Emirates
After his sudden departure from Team DSM for UAE Team Emirates, Hirschi had a tricky start to the year, battling against a longstanding hip injury and a tooth operation that meant he had to delay beginning his season until the Volta a Catalunya. He then played a key role in UAE’s unsuccessful attempts to defend Brandon McNulty’s lead in the Itzulia Basque Country last week.
But he denied that the complicated beginning to the year had affected his schedule for the rest of the year.
“No, not really. To be honest, it’s hard to say what my shape is right now, because after Basque Country my shape was going well. And now in Amstel, I’m maybe not in top, top shape, but I think a lot will be possible and one day races suit me more, too. But for the next part of the season, it’s not going to make a difference.”
The former U23 World Champion has experienced a lot of changes in the last 12 months, starting with his spectacular 2020 Tour de France and continuing with the Ardennes Classics and that abrupt, early-season change of team from Team Sunweb (now Team DSM) to UAE Team Emirates. But he said yesterday that he had not noticed a huge difference between how his previous team and UAE approached racing, saying they were both equally professional.
“The basics are the same,” he concluded. "You have to ride your bike, fast.” And that’ll be as true on Sunday as in any other race.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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