That’s right, the sharp hills and maze-like streets of Amstel Gold is out of place.
The Dutch one-day race makes a detour this spring in the traditional run of consecutive cobbled classics.
Any other year, March and April would see the men’s and women’s pelotons pedaling through a three-weekend trilogy of cobblestone Sundays stretching from Gent-Wevelgem through Flanders and Roubaix.
This year, a calendar kerfuffle caused by French elections means the Roubaix weekend is “late,” on April 16 and 17. Amstel takes the spot where it “should” be, one week prior.
It’s a simple swap, but one that will be the bunch’s burly cobble-bashers will feel all spring.
“The change is for sure a headache for us. Riders are having to think carefully about what they really want to do, and we have to work backward for weeks,” Trek-Segafredo sport director Steven de Jongh told VeloNews.
“The obvious choice for many is to ride Amstel after Flanders, and hope to keep condition. But then your classic program is going to be three big weekends with Flanders, Amstel, Roubaix. For, many that’s too much.”
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Any rider targeting Flanders is likely to also want to hit Roubaix’s pavé in top form. The two northern monuments are the crown jewels of the spring, and races that typically attract the same star riders.
In the traditional calendar, their back-to-back scheduling meant cobblestone specialists hit an early April peak, held it for a week, and hit the couch soon after.
Not this year.
“The period from when riders have to start being OK to when they have to be at their highest peak is now longer — it makes a big difference,” Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl director Rick van Slyke said. “You cannot hold that high kick needed for long. So it’s very difficult now in preparations.”
There are few riders that will have big ambitions in both the Limburg hills of Amstel and the gnarled cobbles of Flanders and Roubaix.
Only a small crop of supertalents like Wout van Aert, Annemiek van Vleuten, and Mathieu van der Poel are able to succeed in both the Flandrien north and the Walloon south. Those lucky enough to be in that position will have some soul-searching to do this spring.
“For the top riders, you really have to make choices now on where you want to be good and when,” de Jongh said. “It’s tempting if you’re good in Flanders to keep going and profit from the form in Amstel. But then you’re likely to pay the price in Roubaix, you’ll be too tired. But you also need to keep racing to maintain some condition.”
All roads lead to Roubaix
The schedules typically pedaled by top classics racers stretching from winter’s “opening weekend” through spring’s major cobblestone block has been buckled by Amstel’s intrusion.
Mads Pedersen skipped Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and a title defense at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in a quest for a late Roubaix peak. Van Aert also bypassed Kuurne in favor of stage-racing to help condition his legs for an April high.
There will be similar shuffles all through the next four weeks as Roubaix rumbles closer.
“[A late Roubaix] does change some things, but not all,” Ag2r-Citroën’s Oliver Naesen told VeloNews. “The same guys will be there, the same guys will finish at the front. What will change is how they fill the calendar.”
The E3 Saxo Bank Classic on Friday opens up a stacked spring schedule where marquee monuments, like Flanders, elbow alongside smaller, but-still-prestigious, mid-weekers like Dwars door Vlaanderen and Scheldeprijs. Riders zeroing in on “The Hell of the North” typically dive in and out to fill training needs and competitive ambitions as they see fit.
“You’re going to have to be a little more careful in training or choosing the races in between,” classics veteran Heinrich Haussler said. “It [Roubaix] is a week later, but once you get that late into the season, you’re not doing much training anyway. It’s racing, recovery rides, racing, recovery rides.”
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De Jongh said some will look for stage-race options to keep engines at a low hum rather than trying to rev full throttle all through the northern spring.
De Jongh’s Trek-Segafredo leaders Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven aren’t going to tackle the Flanders-Amstel-Roubaix trilogy. Only a small pick of phenoms like van Aert, van der Poel, Marianne Vos, and Kasper Asgreen are slated for this spring’s twisted triple.
How they arrive at all three in top shape will be scheduling art, training science, and probably some pot-luck.