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Amstel Gold Race preview: Mathieu van der Poel and Annemiek van Vleuten are riders to beat

Narrow roads, crosswinds, and sometimes bad weather turn the Dutch classic into one of the most intense races on the international calendar.

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The Amstel Gold Race is distinctive in many aspects but true to the northern classics ethos of hard racing, bad weather, rough terrain, and high-stakes drama.

The race is unique in that it’s named after a beer and it’s the only major one-day classic in the Netherlands.

Of the men’s major one-day spring classics, it’s not quite monument status, but it’s certainly a long day in the saddle, with the men’s race longer than 250km and the women’s race at 128.5km.

Typically, the Amstel Gold Race is a transition from the cobblestoned classics to the hillier Ardennes races.

This year, the race is being contested one week earlier than its traditional spot on the calendar. Presidential elections in France this weekend saw Paris-Roubaix rescheduled to April 17.

Also read:

Changes to the race route over the past decade have really spiced up the race. A few new course tweaks for 2022 will assure the winner hangs in the balance until the final bike-throw to the line.

There’s plenty to talk about, so let’s dive in.

The course: Narrow roads, endless climbs

Action from the 2021 edition. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

The men’s route features no fewer than 33 climbs across its lumpy profile, making it one of the most challenging and nerve-wracking races of the year.

Add narrow roads, crosswinds, deep fields, and sometimes bad weather, and the race is among the most intense races on the international calendar.

Now in its 56th edition, the 254.1km men’s race starts in Maastricht and ends near Valkenburg.

The course is a series of short but steep climbs that loop back and forth in the hill country in southern Holland. The Cauberg is the emblematic climb of the race, and will be tackled three times, the last of the ascents coming inside 25km to go.

A few years ago, organizers rearranged the final order of climbs, and though the  Cauberg — 800 meters at 6.5 percent — remains a key moment of the race, the Geulhemmerberg and Bemelerberg climbs featured in the closing 20km have altered the race dynamics.

The route has been changed over the years, most notably moving the finishing line from Maastricht to Valkenburg, and organizers made a few tweaks for the 2022 edition.

“We have made a small change in the route for the men to make the final exciting again,” said race director Leon van Vliet. “On Sunday, after the climb of the Loorberg, the riders will go over narrow roads, followed by the descent of the Koning van Spanje. Then they will climb the Gulperberg from Gulpen. The first hundreds of meters of the climb are very steep with gradients of up to 17 percent. This is a difficult climb precisely because you come to a standstill through a right-angled bend and then immediately start the steep part. It promises to be an exciting race.”

The race geographically is in the Limburg region, and thought it’s not the Ardennes, it’s often bundled together with Brabantse Pijl, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège to make up “Ardennes Week.”

The women’s race also starts in Maastricht and ends near Valkenburg. The Cauberg, narrow roads, wind, rain, and explosive action all decide who steps onto the winner’s podium.

With the past three winners expected to start — Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), Katia Niewiadoma (Canyon-Sram), and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (Team SD Worx) — it will be a very tightly controlled race from start to finish.

The favorites: the Dutch favored on home roads

Marianne Vos bossed the Amstel Gold Race last year
Marianne Vos bossed the Amstel Gold Race last year (Photo: Dion Kerckhofs – Pool/Getty Images)

Look no further than the Dutch for the pre-race favorites.

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) might be hard to beat on home roads.

That van Vleuten was swarmed at Tour of Flanders last week and the race that she’s never won Amstel Gold Race will only serve to steel her determination.

SD Worx will likely have something to say about that. The team delivered a superb victory at Flanders, and it’s won before in the bergs of southern Holland.

Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) will try to stay even on the climbs, but the team brings other options. Jumbo-Visma’s Marianne Vos and former winner Katarzyna Niewadoma reveal a very deep field of favorites.

On the men’s side, van der Poel is hot off back-to-back victories at Dwars door Vlaanderen, and Tour of Flanders, and looks unstoppable. Some key rivals — including Wout van Aert, Peter Sagan, and Tadej Pogačar — won’t be racing.

That certainly doesn’t mean it will be a fight for second. Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal), Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), and on-form Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), and Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) could all shine.

The key to winning Amstel Gold Race is to avoid crashing, staying close on the explosive climbs, and saving some cartridges for the sprint finale.

Equal prize money for women’s and men’s races

Organizers have equaled the prize money for the men’s and women’s races at Amstel Gold Race. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

The women’s winner at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday will receive a paycheck equal to the men’s winner.

Officials from the Dutch one-day classic confirmed that the prize money purses of the men’s and women’s races will be the same, with a total purse of €40,000 for each race.

“That is a big step forward. In total, the prize money for the women as with the men. That is €30,000 more than last year. A considerable increase,” said Leontien van Moorsel, race director Amstel Gold Race.

“When you see where women’s cycling comes from and where we are now, it really makes a world of difference. The development to get more equality in cycling has taken off in recent years. And here we really want to be in the leading group.”

The winner of each race will receive €16,000, and the amount of fees going to the women’s teams also increased, van Moorsel said.

Amstel Gold Race previous winners

Tom Pidcock at the Amstel Gold Race 2021
Tom Pidcock at the Amstel Gold Race 2021 (Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)

Men’s edition:

2021 — Wout van Aert

2020 — No race

2019 — Mathieu van der Poel

2018 — Michael Valgren

2017 — Philippe Gilbert

2016 — Enrico Gasparotto

2015 — Michal Kwiatkowski

2014 — Philippe Gilbert

2013 — Roman Kreuziger

2012 — Enrico Gasparotto

2011 — Philippe Gilbert

Women’s edition:

2021 — Marianne Vos

2020 — No race

2019 — Katarzyna Niewiadoma

2018 — Chantal van den Broek-Blaak

2017 — Anna van der Breggen

2003 — Nicole Cooke

2002 — Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel

2001 — Debby Mansveld