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Worth It's Weight In Gold

As the dust settles on the cobbled sectors of north-western Europe, and the bruised and rattled bones are beginning to ease, the professional peloton will turn its head to the upcoming Ardennes Classics

17 April 2015

No less challenging than the cobbled Classics, the three races that make up the Ardennes Classics feature similarly long distances, but swap pavé for an unrelenting barrage of short and punchy climbs through the tight residential roads of the Ardennes and Dutch Limburg. And just as the cobbled Classics are suited to certain types of rider, the parcours of these races demand strengths and specialities all their own. Those who excel on rolling terrain peppered with short and steep climbs – the puncheurs of the peloton – should shine here. Rare is the rider that can triumph on the cobbles and in the Ardennes.

Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège traditionally take place within an eight-day window, setting the scene for an unofficial classification battle akin to a grand tour. With similar riders vying for the top places at each of the one-day races, wins across the board are rare; only David Rebellin, in 2004, and Philippe Gilbert, in 2011, have taken ‘the triple’ in the same year.

The first Ardennes Classic, the Amstel Gold Race, will stretch out from Maastricht into Limburg, the Netherland’s most southern province, across a gruelling 258km route which ends in Valkenberg. Thirty-three categorised climbs await the peloton this weekend, including four ascents of the infamous Cauberg hill, amounting to more than 4,000m of climbing.

The Amstel Gold Race holds a firm place in every Dutch cycling fan’s heart, standing alone as the only exclusively Dutch race of the WorldTour. But despite its popularity, the race hasn’t always been a respected fixture of the spring cycling calendar. Originally hindered by poor organisation, it earned a reputation for being one of the worst planned races in history, and Amstel Gold didn’t attain a place on the WorldTour until more that 20 years after it began. However, thanks to its masses of patriotic Dutch crowds, unpredictable outcome, and progressively challenging routes, today it is considered one of biggest races of the spring calendar.

Some big names have been confirmed for Sunday, including Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and Etixx-QuickStep’s Michal Kwiatkowski, and with the return of previous winners Roman Kreuziger and Philippe Gilbert, this year’s Amstel Gold Race is sure to be as unpredictable and entertaining as ever.

The Amstel Gold Race holds a firm place in every Dutch cycling fan’s heart, standing alone as the only exclusively Dutch race of the WorldTour. But despite its popularity, the race hasn’t always been a respected fixture of the spring cycling calendar. Originally hindered by poor organisation, it earned a reputation for being one of the worst planned races in history, and Amstel Gold didn’t attain a place on the WorldTour until more that 20 years after it began. However, thanks to its masses of patriotic Dutch crowds, unpredictable outcome, and progressively challenging routes, today it is considered one of biggest races of the spring calendar.

Some big names have been confirmed for Sunday, including Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and Etixx-QuickStep’s Michal Kwiatkowski, and with the return of previous winners Roman Kreuziger and Philippe Gilbert, this year’s Amstel Gold Race is sure to be as unpredictable and entertaining as ever.

Amstel Gold Race: the facts

- Fraught with permissions issues and date clashes with other races, the inaugural race, in 1966, was almost cancelled days before the start. Only moments into a press conference to announce its cancellation, a phone call from The Hague saved the race.

- Amstel Gold is the youngest of the Ardennes one-day races, starting in 1966, and is named after its brewery sponsor.

- In 1989, the Amstel Gold was added to the UCI WorldTour (then the UCI Road World Cup), securing its position as one of the big spring races, and the only exclusively Dutch race in the WorldTour.

- The Cauberg hill, 1,200m long with a maximum gradient of 12%, climbs out of the centre of Valkenburg. Between 2003 and 2012, the Amstel Gold finished atop the Cauberg, arguably the most popular Limberg viewpoint of any race that includes it. This year, the race will hit the Cauberg no fewer than four times. The finish line has also been pushed back (by almost two kilometres) in an effort to break the repetition of large sprint finishes on the climb at the end of each race.
“The Cauberg is a place Dutch bike fans have made their own; like Alpe d’Huez, only playing at home.” (Leo Van Vliet, former professional cyclist and now race director of the Amstel Gold Race.)

- Former Dutch professional cyclist Jan Raas holds the record for most wins at the Amstel Gold Race, securing five from six starts between 1977 and 1982.
“The Gold Race was made for me, I had no ability as a climber, but the short and hard Limburg hills were made for me.” (Jan Raas, former Dutch professional cyclist.)

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