The first of two previews today! Sorry for not posting anything for a few weeks, I have had University and other personal issues to address. Enough of the excuses, let’s jump right into the racing!
It feels like I’ve almost forgotten how to do these. The main classics season has ended – Philippe Gilbert took a stunning solo win at Flanders, GVA finally broke his monuments curse at Paris-Roubaix, Strade Bianche was one of the best races of the year (the women’s edition is the best race of the year so far), so there has many hours of brilliant cycling to watch! However, let’s not focus on the men, let’s focus on the women first. Rivera has come from no where to win 2 WWT races and take the Purple Jersey, which no one could have predicted. This year marks the 4th Women’s Amstel Gold Race after a 14 year hiatus, which is a great progression for women’s cycling being able to compete alongside the Men at one of the biggest Belgian races of the year. Enough small talk, let’s jump right into the course overview.
What is lost in the Men’s race is gained in the Women’s race – the Cauberg remains as the final stage for the assault into Berg en Terblijt. The 121 kilometer race – which I personally believe as an injustice to the women racing in terms of length – sees the riders tackle 17 different climbing sections over 10 different climbs, with a punchy uphill up the Cauberg and the fierce 1.1km descent afterwards. The riders will leave Maastricht and head North towards Guelle for the first climb, before looping around the Eastern side of Maastricht and Valkenberg and heading into the final few laps around Berg en Terblijt. The profile, and type of race it is, lends to an early break as per usual, but this year has shown that it’s been really tough to get a break going in the WWT – not many attempts have been successful.
As has been the case for most WWT races this year, a breakaway of the same strong contingent of riders – van der Breggen, Borghini, van Vleuten, Niewiadoma, Rivera, Cecchini and a couple of others who manage to tag on – will form with around 25km to go and head into the finish loop. While you could predict this happening for most WWT races, Amstel Gold has a certain quality to it where I don’t think that will happen. The riders will tackle the Geulhemmerberg, Bemelerberg and Cauberg on their final loops, and the distance between climbs is so minimal that if one gets away they could stay out the whole time. This really suits riders like Borghini and Niewiadoma who have that explosive edge, but riders like Janneke Ensing wouldn’t count themselves out on such a hilly, explosive finish. The dash to the line is downhill after the Cauberg, so don’t take your eyes off the telly on the last couple of kilometers because it’s going to be frantic! That’s the course today, who do you need to keep an eye out for?
The Bookies Favourite: Coryn Rivera
After her amazing run of form, why wouldn’t you back her as the favourite? The only person with two wins in this WWT season at Trofeo Binda and Ronde van Vlaanderen, Coryn Rivera has gone from no-name American straight into the spotlight on the biggest stage of Women’s cycling in the world. She has shown that even after the tough hills, the pint-sized Sunweb rider can sprint better than most, if not all, of the Women’s peloton. She has a great team behind her in Ellen van Dijk, Floortje Mackaij and Leah Kirchmann who can all target the race for themselves too. Will she make it three – if her purple patch run of form continues, you can’t see why not.
The Hometown Hero: Anna van der Breggen
Being part of the Boels Dolmans super-squad warrants you a mention in any preview of any WWT race. If you are donning Orange and White in the peloton, you know you are the best of the best in the sport. Anna van der Breggen finds herself as one of the best riders on the best squad in Women’s cycling. The European and Olympic Champion (the latter of which was by a bit of luck) will be hoping to lead the Boels charge at Amstel Gold today, after a shaky start to the season for the whole team. She will want to make up for that shaky start back in her home country – she snagged 2nd at the Healthy Ageing Tour last week which would have to be beneficial mentally in terms of form, we will just have to wait until later tonight to see if she has the legs.
The Youngster: Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
This is one of my favourite parts of Women’s cycling. You can have riders who are 17 or 18 competing next to riders in their late 30s (or if you are current TT World Champ Amber Neben, at 42 years old), and they all have a fair crack at winning. And after a fair start to the 2017 season, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig of Cervelo Bigla has experience beyond her age. The 21 year old Dane can keep up with the big names on the big stage, with a 9th at a hotly contested Strade Bianche – the first finisher after the 8 man break. The punchy finish of the Cauberg will definitely suit her, and Amstel Gold is probably her best chance all season to get a top 5 or even a podium on the WWT. While she might not be at the top just yet, 2 years from now she could be winning left right and center.
The Unknown Entity: Shara Gillow
I love a good Australian underdog story. Strade Bianche was exactly that. Before Strade Bianche, if you asked most people in cycling about Shara Gillow – they would probably think “Why would you want to share a pillow with me?”. The 29 year old Australian broke into the spotlight with a wonderful solo attack into Siena at Strade Bianche, only to be caught only one kilometer out from the line in the world’s slowest drag race. Since then, she has faded back into the shadows, but a similar looking Amstel Gold Race could favour her in a solo effort. Consistently good performances at the Aussie Nats tells you she can tackle hills pretty well, and although her team at FDJ isn’t the strongest by a mile, she can still go herself. If you want an underdog story to follow today, here is one in the making.
The Previous Winner: About That…
Well, the last edition of the Amstel Gold Women’s Race ran in 2003 with Nicole Cooke winning, but she is now retired. So I’m going to use this as a flex spot to talk about a rider who hasn’t been mentioned but is definitely an outside chance. And I’ve alluded to her slightly, but because not many people give her credit for her skill, Janneke Ensing definitely deserves a special mention. I took notice of her at the Santos Women’s Tour after holding onto the wheel of Spratt up Paris Creek Rd – which is far from flat – almost the whole way up and taking 2nd place on that stage into Meadows. This year, she has proven that she can stick it with the top riders and attack near the latter stages of the race, most notably going after Shara Gillow in the closing stages of Strade Bianche this year (if you still haven’t watched Strade Bianche WWT, go watch it. Best race of the year). While she isn’t of the same prowess as the top-top of the sport, she is definitely an outsider you cannot forget about. With no wins to her name at age 30, she will want to grab something in what could be one of her last pro seasons.
That’s a wrap for my Amstel Gold WWT Preview! The Men’s Preview will be out in about an hour’s time, but for now you can just twiddle your thumbs waiting. My personal pick for this race is Janneke Ensing, I think she can go solo and stun us all. What a win that would be for the win-less Dutchie. For now, I’m out.
~The Cycling Raven.