UCI WorldTour: Amstel Gold Race Kicks Off Hilly Classics Campaign
More than 251 kilometres long, no less than 34 climbs feature in the Netherlands’ most important and testing Classic, culminating with an ascent of the short but punishing Cauberg climb near Maastricht and a final 900 metre dash from the Cauberg’s summit to the finish. It’s an identical finale, in fact, to the World Championships course in 2012.
Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) was crowned World Champion two years ago on that course in the Netherlands and there is every chance that he will once again be one of the top favourites on the climbs of the Limberg province on Sunday. The winner of the Amstel Gold Race in 2010 and 2011, Gilbert’s victory in the one day Brabantse Pijl Classic on Wednesday is an indication of fast rising form, too and he will surely be one of Sunday’s most motivated riders.
Several other past winners will also be taking part, including last year’s Amstel Gold Race champion Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo), Enrico Gasparotto (Astana Pro Team), who won it in 2012 and Italian Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida), who took the victory in 2008.
Given the hilly nature of Amstel Gold, it’s perhaps no surprise that the three riders who finished on the World Championships podium in Italy’s equally tough course last year – gold medallist Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) – are once again participating in the Dutch race.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) is the best-placed UCI WorldTour rider taking part
The UCI WorldTour ranking is still led by Spain’s Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), who is taking a well earned break after his recent victory in the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), currently lying tenth overall, is the best-placed UCI WorldTour rider taking part, whilst others in the top 20 due to take part include Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing), Carlos Alberto Betancur (AG2R La Mondiale), Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and last year’s overall UCI WorldTour winner, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).
In the UCI WorldTour nations classification, the Amstel Gold Race will see Spain, with 605 points, battling to maintain its considerable overall advantage of 151 points over closest runners’ up Belgium, who have 454 points, and third-placed France, who have 381.
Meanwhile in the UCI WorldTour teams ranking, it is a similar scenario for the top ranked Omega Pharma-Quick Step, who with 543 points are clear leaders ahead of Team Katusha, with 382 points.
The next two teams, though – AG2R La Mondiale with 380 points and Tinkoff-Saxo with 379 – are ideally placed to leapfrog ahead of Katusha should one of their riders be victorious on Sunday, making it very hard to predict how the ranking will stand after the Amstel Gold Race: check back again soon.
Photo: Last year’s Amstel podium with winner Roman Kreuziger (Team Saxo-Tinkoff), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE)