Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

Road

Armstrong aims at Amstel

The Amstel Gold Race is Lance Armstrong’s favorite spring classic, and he would dearly like to win the Dutch event’s 38th edition on Sunday. He has twice finished second, in 1999 and 2001, and last year came in fourth after triggering the winning breakaway with Dutchman Michael Boogerd. In each of the four years that he has won the Tour de France, Armstrong has tested his late-spring form at the Amstel Gold Race. This year is no exception, and perhaps he has his best chance yet of taking the victory. For the first time, the finish will no longer be on the flats, but near the summit of the

Don't miss a moment from Paris-Roubaix and Unbound Gravel, to the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and everything in between when you join Outside+.

By John Wilcockson

The Amstel Gold Race is Lance Armstrong’s favorite spring classic, and he would dearly like to win the Dutch event’s 38th edition on Sunday. He has twice finished second, in 1999 and 2001, and last year came in fourth after triggering the winning breakaway with Dutchman Michael Boogerd.

In each of the four years that he has won the Tour de France, Armstrong has tested his late-spring form at the Amstel Gold Race. This year is no exception, and perhaps he has his best chance yet of taking the victory. For the first time, the finish will no longer be on the flats, but near the summit of the famous Cauberg — the hill that climbs at an average 8 percent out of the little town of Valkenburg. Armstrong knows the climb well, because this is where he blew apart the 1998 world road championship in his comeback year.

On Saturday, Armstrong rode the final. 100km of the new course with his friend and former team boss at Motorola, Jim Ochowicz, who told VeloNews: “[Lance] had a good week of training. It only took him a couple of days to get over the stomach virus [that forced him to abandoned the Circuit de la Sarthe last week]. He’s riding strong, and he’s motivated.”

A further motivation for the Texan is the great form of his U.S. Postal teammates Viatcheslav Ekimov and Max Van Heeswijk, who performed so well at Paris-Roubaix last Sunday (Eki’ was third); they will be able to give Armstrong the support he needs prior to the always intense finale.

This year, there are eight hills in the final 38km of the 251km race, including the fearsomely steep (and very narrow) Kruisberg, Eyserbosweg and Keutenberg — which tops out at 22 percent, and comes just 10 extremely technical kilometers prior to the finish up the Cauberg. The weather was overcast with a cold easterly wind blowing across the exposed back roads of Limburg on Saturday, with temperatures in the lower 50s. The forecast calls for warmer weather Sunday, but still mainly cloudy with steady southeast winds, which will make the final 50km even tougher.

Besides Armstrong, the riders most likely to figure in the final attacks are last year’s winner Michele Bartoli of Fassa Bortolo; the always-up-for-the-Amstel Michael Boogerd of Rabobank; Francesco Casagrande of Lampre, Davide Rebellin of Gerolsteiner, World Cup leader Peter Van Petegem of Lotto-Domo, and Frank Vandenbroucke of Quick Step-Davitamon.

In their previews of the race, Europe’s main cycling newspapers had varying views of the outcome. Typical forecasts were those in the Dutch-language Het Nieuwsblad, which had Boogerd as the lone five-star favorite, followed by Armstrong, Bartoli, Van Petegem and Vandenbroucke at four stars; and the French-language Le Soir, which had Boogerd and Vandenbroucke as joint favorites, followed by Van Petegem, Rebellin, Danilo Di Luca of Saeco, Oscar Freire of Rabobank, Nico Mattan of Cofidis and Serguei Ivanov of Fassa Bortolo.

Ivanov was second at the 2002 Amstel after leading out Bartoli for the win. This year, Ivanov could be the team leader as Bartoli has yet to reach his best form because of the January training crash that fractured his pelvis and delayed the start of his season until four weeks ago. Italy’s other top classics rider, Paolo Bettini, is unfortunately not able to race this week because of the shoulder tendon injuries he sustained in a fall at Ghent-Wevelgem on April 9.

Boogerd is the big favorite of the Dutch fans on his local roads, which he knows better than anyone. He won this race in 1999 (from Armstrong) and was third last year. Boogerd will not only have the support of two-time world champion Freire (who was fifth last year), but also of Erik Dekker, the 2001 Amstel winner, who makes his first appearance in this year’s World Cup following knee problems at the start of the season.

Casagrande, too, is making his 2003 World Cup debut; but he has hardly been inactive. The slim, workaholic Italian has been busy riding stage races in Spain and Italy, in preparation for his upcoming bid to win the Giro d’Italia (which starts May 10). Casagrande is a two-time winner of the hilly Clasica San Sebastian, and a race like the Amstel is tough enough for his grit and climbing talent to emerge. Also, he has the backing of his talented (but scandal-tainted) teammate Raimondas Rumsas, the winner of the 2001 Tour of Lombardy.

Rebellin is more of a one-day specialist (he won San Sebastian in 1997), and his stage win last month at Paris-Nice and a near-miss last week at the Tour of the Basque Country show that he has the right form this year. He also has stronger increased from the emerging Gerolsteiner squad. Rebellin is at his best as a sprinter on uphills, like the one offered by the Cauberg on Sunday.

In theory, winners of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders aren’t suited to the hilly terrain of the Amstel Gold Race. But Van Petegem is a rider who could break that stereotype, especially considering his second place at the 1998 world’s when he impressively conquered the multiple ascents of the Cauberg, and his sixth place at the 2002 Amstel. He too has a strong team, with support riders like Rik Verbrugghe, Serge Baguet and Axel Merckx.

As for Vandenbroucke, he was the equal of Van Petegem at the Tour of Flanders, and withdrew from Paris-Roubaix after a crash. Prior to his black period — when he was hounded by doping scandals and needed psychotherapy to get back on track — the Belgian enigma was a force in hilly races like the Amstel. He won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1999, and four years later he looks ready to renew his classics career.

Only three Americans are on the start line Sunday: Armstrong and Postal teammate Christian Vande Velde and Vini Caldirola-Sidermec’ Fred Rodriguez — who is still in search of his best form. Armstrong appears to be in a much better place, and despite having only 11 days of racing in his legs this year, he’s in great shape. The Texan is extremely popular with the Dutch fans, and short of another Amstel success for Boogerd, they’d be very happy to see the American take the win on Sunday.


John Wilcockson is the Editorial Director of VeloNews magazine and author of “John Wilcockson’s World of Cycling,” published by VeloPress.