This Sunday marks the start of Ardennes week with a unique edition of Amstel Gold dropping the flag on an exciting block of racing. A stacked field will take to the Dutch roads of Limburg for the fifth round of the Women’s World Tour Series.
Organisers have created a ‘Covid-compliant’ course for the 4th edition of the ‘revamped’ Amstel Gold; eschewing the traditional route for a 7 lap closed circuit race near Maastricht. Despite the unconventional format, the 16.5km leg-sapping loop features all the prerequisites of an exciting Ardennes’ classic – even if the race itself is not actually in the Ardennes.
Narrow, twisting roads punctuated by short, sharp ascents as well as the synonymous ‘triple Amstel climbs’ will make for a challenging 119km race. With 21 ‘bergs’ and nearly 1700m of climbing on the ‘top tube menu’ the race will be one of attrition where the punchy climbers are expected to rise to the fore.
Starting and finishing in Vilt, the peloton will wind their way out to the first of the triple climbs – the 1km long, 5% average Geulhemmerberg. 5km later, the scenic climb of the Bemelerberg awaits (900m/4.5%) before a false flat and quick descent leads the riders into the tourist town of Valkenburg. From there, the bunch face the ‘most revered hill in the Netherlands’ – the Cauberg – climbing for 800m at an average of 6.5%. Cresting the Cauberg there’s just 2.6km to go which on the last lap is likely to set up a nail-biting and exciting finish.
With the race cancelled in 2020, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) will pin number 1 to her jersey as the defending champion. The 26 year old Polish rider attacked a select group on the final ascent of the Cauberg in 2019 and managed to hold off Annemiek van Vleuten in what was a dramatic pursuit over the final kilometers. A rider who thrives in this terrain; she’ll be looking to repeat her success in 2021.
Van Vleuten (Movistar), however will be hoping to go one better this time round and add Amstel Gold to her ever burgeoning Palmares. Fresh off her commanding Flanders win and victory at Dwars door Vlannderen, the current European champion will be hoping to make it three wins from three.
Compatriot, Marriane Vos (Team Jumbo Visma), will also be vying to take the prestigious win on home soil. In the 16th year of her legendary career, the three time World Champion has already had some good results with a podium at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and a victory at Gent-Wevelgem. She’s been vocal about targeting Amstel Gold and so, sporting the yellow and black of Jumbo Visma, she’ll be hoping to bring home the win for the Dutch team in their inaugural year.
The Dutch strength continues, with Jumbo Visma’s home rival team SD Work, lining up with an eye-wateringly strong squad – any of whom could cross the line with arms aloft. Winner of the 2017 edition, current World Champion and ‘Queen of the Ardennes’, Anna van der Breggen is joined by 2018’s winner Chantal van den Broek-Blaak who showed her form this season taking the win at Strade Bianche back in March. Alongside them, the current E-sport World Champion and previous Ardennes podium finisher – Ashleigh Moolman Pasio – takes to the line with Demi Vollering, Amy Pieters and rising talent Niamh Fisher-Black. The squad has options aplenty, so expect them to animate the race and deploy their strategic nous.
Donning the purple jersey of the Women’s World Tour leader, Elisa Longo Borghini and Trek Segafredo will be looking to upset the Dutch dominance. The current Italian champion, who took victory with a solo win at Trofeo Alfredo Binda this season, will look to capitalize on her climbing strength and extend her lead in the World Tour rankings. Fellow teammate, Lizzie Deignan, is always a rider to watch in the Ardennes too. The 2015 World Champion, won Liege-Bastogne-Liege last year and excels in these attritional and aggressive races.
Another team with a strong line up and several cards to play is the Australian squad of Team BikeExhcange. Leading the charge is climber and former podium finisher Amanda Spratt, alongside fellow countrywomen, the in form Grace Brown and climber Lucy Kennedy.
The strength in depth of the field continues with the likes of Danish rider Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ). Uttrup Ludwig was 2nd in Fleche Wallonne last year and has been eyeing up the Ardennes week to finally rise to the top step of a World Tour podium. Other riders to watch are Tibco’s Sarah Gigante and former venture capitalist turned neo pro Kristen Faulkner. Likewise, Soraya Paladin (Liv Racing) and last year’s World Tour Youth winner, Liane Lippert (Team DSM), will certainly be in the mix.
Whilst an absence of crowds may dampen the roadside buzz the race still promises to be an incredibly exciting affair with fast, hard and aggressive racing. With the depth of talent in the field combined with the challenging parcors, the Ardennes week looks set to be kicked off in style.
When: 18th April, 8.30am (CET)
Where: Limburg, the Netherlands
What: 119km closed circuit race (7×16.5km loops)
Who to watch:
Annemiek van Vleuten *****
Anna van der Breggen ****
Kasia Niewiadoma ****
Marianne Vos ****
Lizzie Deignan ****
Top Outsider: Sarah Gigante
TV Coverage: NOS.nl, NPO1 and GCN+