Good morning, and welcome along to a rather unusual edition of the Amstel Gold Race.
I know what you're thinking... this is Paris-Roubaix day. Well, good old fashioned French local political bureaucracy has seen to that, and Amstel has kindly stepped in to swap dates. In truth, the Dutch race was always an uncomfortable member of the Ardennes Classics, mainly due to the fact it doesn't take place in the Ardennes. Now it's out on its own, and it probably deserves to be enjoyed more on its own terms, given its unique character.
Narrow country lanes, punchy climb after punchy climb, and countless twists and turns... that's the essence of Amstel Gold Race. And since they modified the route and binned the Cauberg, the spectacle has improved dramatically in recent years. With some top class names on the start list, we've got the ingredients for the same again today.
It's a glorious morning in Maastricht, where the fans are out in force and the riders are signing the register ahead of the race.
My colleague Daniel Ostanek is in Maastricht and will have all the news from the start plus the reaction from the finish in Valkenburg. We also have separate live coverage of the women's race, and you'll soon be able to join Amy Jones for that one.
We're less than 10 minutes away from the roll-out now. It's a short neutral zone and a long race, at 254.1 kilometres.
Before we get going, now's the time to have a read of our in-depth race preview, covering route, contenders, and more.
"It's going to be special," says Mathieu van der Poel, winner in 2019. "The year I won was crazy, I had the national champion's jersey so that was maybe even more of a trigger for the fans, but it's really psycho-minded here. It's the first time in two or three years people are allowed alongside the course so it's going to be a good atmosphere.
"For sure I know the race well because I trained a lot here when I was younger. I know the roads and the climbs. Experience is important but the legs are more important. People will look at me a bit but I think I'm less a favourite than I was at Flanders, which suits me better. Amstel is a bit different, no cobbles... for sure it's going to be a hard race, and I think we'll see some different names in the front in the end."
Van der Poel, winner of the Tour of Flanders last weekend, is the favourite today, but who else could compete. Here's our list of riders to watch.
We reach kilometre-zero and the race is waved underway. Here come the first attacks and the attempts to form the day's breakaway.
A seven-man move goes clear. Will it be as easy as that?
In this move are: Ide Schelling (Bora-Hansgrohe), Owain Doull (EF Education-EasyPost), Johan Jacobs (Movistar), Emils Liepens (Trek-Segafrdo), Aaron Van Poucke (Sport Vlaanderen Baloise), and the Bardiani-CSF duo of Luca Rastelli and Davide Gabburo.
Gabburo is dropped from the break, leaving six. They have a lead of 50 seconds so have moved clear but haven't sailed clear as of yet.
It's a slightly chaotic start, with a couple of crashes and a few mechanicals seeing lots of riders sprinting back to the peloton.
Tom Pidcock, whose spring has been turbulent due to a stomach problem, revealed at the start that he's been ill again this week.
"I've been ill this week, which has been very frustrating to say the least. I tried everything to stay healthy but it seems a bit like pot luck at the moment. I'm on the start line and I'll do my best today."
Pidcock was second here last year in his debut season as a pro. He'd just beaten Wout van Aert at Brabantse Pijl and went head-to-head with him again, this time in the tightest of photo finishes. Every angle seemed to suggest a different winner but in the end it was Van Aert's name that was read out.
"I didn't sleep very well after Amstel last year, I'm not going to lie," Pidcock added this morning.
We've done 30km already and the peloton has finally eased and let this six-man move off the leash. This is our breakaway of the day.
Just the 33 climbs on the menu today. We've already done three of them. In truth, things start to become serious once we pass through the finish in Valkenburg for the second time and take on the Geulhemmerberg and Bemeleberg for the first time - they're the two climbs on our finishing circuit. There's a brief respite before things really intensify with a string of climbs at 50km to go, before the third passage of the line comes with 21km to go and we head out on that final loop and those two climbs before the finish. In total, all these short climbs add up to more than 3000 metres of elevation gain.
Here's a first shot of our breakaway
And here's the first windmill of the day
200km to go
The breakaway's advantage has stabilised at a modest 4 minutes 30 seconds.
The race heads up the Cauberg and across the finish line for the first time. The gap is still 4:30.
Here's Daniel Ostanek's story on Pidcock from the start this morning.
If Pidcock isn't fighting fit, Ineos can look to Dylan van Baarle, who was runner-up at Flanders last week. They also have former winner Michal Kwiatkowski, road captain Luke Rowe, the Belgian Laurens De Plus who's starting to string some races together, plus the youthful duo of Magnus Sheffield and Ben Turner - who had a great debut at the cobbled Classics.
For more on Turner, a shameless plug for this background piece we did on him from Belgium 10 days ago, with input from Rowe, Rod Ellingworth, and of course Turner himself.
Ineos have been prominent in the peloton so far today. It's them and Van der Poel's Alpecin-Fenix who've largely been keeping this breakaway at 4:30.
170km to go
84km on the clock and we're just tackling a pair of climbs - Wolfsberg and Loorberg - before a short respite. All calm for now.
We're two hours in and the average speed so far is 43km/h.
Here's a relaxed Van der Poel in the bunch
154km to go
100km on the clock and the peloton calls another nature break. It's been a pretty uneventful day so far. It was a slightly frantic start with some crashes and mechanicals but the break went early and, after that brief flurry, were allowed to go clear. Still, it's hardly been slow, with Ineos and Alpecin conspiring to keep the gap at an ungenerous 4:30 for much of the day.
The bunch on the Cauberg a little earlier
The gap between break and bunch hits five minutes for the first time.
UAE have started to join the chase. They're here with a team that includes road captain Matteo Trentin, plus Marc Hirschi, who's shown some good form so far this year. They also have the young talent Juan Ayuso.
We're into the final 25km of the women's race. A reminder that we also have separate live coverage of that one with Amy Jones. Here's the link you need for that.
After a brief crossing of the Belgian border for the Gemmenich climb, we're now heading back from the south east towards Valkenburg once more. When he cross the finish line again, that's when the race should start to come to life.
Here's our full round-up of quotes from the big names at the start this morning.
125km to go
The pace has lifted in the peloton. The gap falls to four minutes.
Tom Dumoulin wears the number 1 for Jumbo-Visma in the absence of 2021 champion Wout van Aert. That said, he's arguably third choice for the team today, as Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte look to carry over their form from the cobbles.
The average speed comes down to 41.5km/h after three hours of racing.
Into the final 5km and onto the Cauberg at the women's race. Live coverage of that is here.
115km to go
Another surge in the peloton and the gap falls to three minutes. Things are starting to shift as we head back towards Valkenburg.
Victor Campenaerts is looking to attack, and everyone knows how dangerous he can be so that draws an instant response.
100km to go
Splits in the bunch after the Vrakelberg as we head into the final 100.
The gap comes tumbling down to 90 seconds as things get frantic with these small splits.
Campenaerts attacks again.
Campenaerts is joined by Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo)
Rastelli has been dropped from the break.
Campenaerts and Van Hooydonck are just 30 seconds behind the breakaway now. They're also 30 seconds up on the peloton.
89km to go
Campenaerts and Van Hooydonck make contact with the break ahead of the Cauberg.
Bahrain Victorious are leading the peloton, just over a minute behind this newly enlarged breakaway.
Another counter-attack from the bunch. This time it's Florian Senechal (QuickStep-AlphaVInyl).
Alpecin-Fenix have come back to control the peloton with five men on the front.
Senechal is dangling in no-man's land. It doesn't look like he'll be getting across. QuickStep don't have Julian Alaphilippe here as he was racing Itzulia so there's more of a cobbles feel to their team. They have Kasper Asgreen but he said he was 'slaughtered' at Flanders and this race is even hillier. Andrea Bagioli is one to watch but the Belgian team are in underdog mode today.
As I write that, Bagioli crashes on a roundabout...
They bunch had to split to avoid a lamppost and there was also a roadbump on the entry to that roundabout, which sent a couple of riders flying. They all look relatively uninjured, thankfully.
75km to go
Anyway, 75 to go and the seven-man breakaway has a lead of 48 seconds over the peloton.
The leaders take on the Bemeleberg now. This will be our final climb later on.
Jack Haig crashes uphill on the Bemeleberg. It's getting tense and nervous now.
Dries De Bondt is doing the work in the peloton for Van der Poel.
The break have taken their lead out to 1:12, taking advantage of a last lull in the peloton.
Alpecin are dictating but Ineos are right up there with numbers. Quite how Pidcock is feeling remains to be seen. If you're only just joining us, the Briton revealed at the start that he's been struck down by yet another illness this week. Full story here.
Here was the Campenaerts attack a little earlier, with Van Hooydonck responding in the background. Both are now in a strong strategic position for their teams.
The lull in the peloton continues and the gap balloons out to 1:40!
We've mentioned Jumbo being here with Laporte, Benoot, and Dumoulin. As for Lotto, they have a man who was won this race no fewer than four times: Philippe Gilbert. The veteran Belgian is in his finals season and certainly not in the form of old, in which case Tim Wellens should be on hand to take responsibility.
Lotto have now posted four men to the front of the bunch. They have a strong rider up the road so perhaps it's more for positioning than pace-setting, but still...
Here's a closer look at some of today's contenders
59km to go
After a 15km stretch without a climb, we're heading uphill again now on the Loorberg. It's 1.6km at 5.1 per cent.
This is the 25th of our 33 climbs. The next one is the Gulperberg and that kicks off a real chain of key climbs where things should really come to life.
Campenaerts and Schelling are dropped from the break as Van Hooydonck sets the tempo.
Campenaerts doesn't look to be in that much trouble here, from his body language at least, but he's let the group drift away here. Schelling looks a little less comfortable but doesn't seem to be able to start bringing the gap down. Looks like break over for those two.
A soft one from the Jumbo rider who was second at E3 and Gent-Wevelgem. Turner marks it for Ineos.
Campenaerts attacks Schelling now and leaves him behind. Bizarre.
It gets weirder. Campenaerts is now urinating on the move, having just accelerated away.
Schelling is caught by the bunch and now so is Campenaerts.
Campenaerts gets straight to work on the front, so he was evidently called back by his team.
54km to go
Here we go then. Finally we have a lift in pace in the bunch. QuickStep, Jumbo (that Laporte attack quickly fizzled out), EF, and Lotto all prominent and starting to jostle for position.
Onto the Gulperbergweg! Van Hooydonck hits it again in the break.
Liepens is dropped from the breakaway now.
Alpecin light it up behind as the bunch start the climb 40 seconds down. It's Gogl doing the damage.
Laporte jumps on it. The Frenchman is looking to ride an expansive race today rather than sitting back.
Laporte is not rolling through with Wellens.
That spells the end of the move and now Stefan Kung accelerates and Kwiatkowski responds.