The first of the Ardennes. This year a bit earlier due to Roubaix being moved a week. Now I must admit I have not had the time to dive deeply into Amstel Gold Race’s race dynamics, but nonetheless, here is my preview.
You see the laps below. It will be the last lap, that really makes the difference.
Here we have four important climbs. Gulperberg, Kruisberg, Eyserbosweg and Keutenberg. They start are all within 17 km of racing, kicking off with 44 km left until 27 km. Cauberg is the last race defining climb.
Gulpenberg, max 13% (44 km left)
Kruisberg, max 14.7% (39 km left)
Eyserbosweg, max 19.4%. (37 km left)
Keutenberg, max 12.1% (29 km left)
Cauberg, max 12.7% (19 km left)
The wind will blow 3 m/s from the west, it is not that much to be fair. Temperatures around 10 degrees C and perhaps a bit of rain.
How will the race unfold?
Well, to me it seems you need a strong team (what a surprise). If you have multiple options after the first four climbs, you will have more cards to play. However, we have a favorite here who is not going to let that happen easily. Mathieu van der Poel does not have a strong team to support him, which means he will attack – quite early. My best bet is Gulpenberg or Kruisberg. Trimming those other teams down is most optimal for him.
That means we will have a front group of the strongest riders and a chase will start to happen behind. The teams with a man in front will make it difficult, plus a headwind/crosswind of 3 m/s will likely be in favor of those in front, due to riders being more fatigued behind.
Who will be able to join MvdP? That is the question. Normally, more riders are able to make it than you’d normally think, and I think plenty of teams will have an interest in forcing MvdP to work as much as possible.
MvdP is the favorite and rightly so. The biggest issue is his team, it is not very strong. That is nothing new. As I mentioned, he would like to make a selection as early as possible – it is easier to control a group of 5-8 and not a group of 30 when you are alone. It is hard to beat him, he is very consistent and in flying form.
Jumbo-Visma bring Benoot and Laporte. Both are in very good shape too. Laporte managed to get a good result in Ronde van Vlaanderen despite crashing before the finale. Benoot is a solid attacking option, but I have never seen him beat anyone in a sprint. I think it will be hard to take a solo this year.
INEOS has a strong team on paper. Pidcock is lacking a few percent, that is clear. One should remember he will gradually get better and better. Dylan van Baarle should also be up there given his form. Another rider who needs to take a solo win which I find difficult.
Bahrain – Victorious with perhaps the best team? Mohoric disappointed me a bit in Ronde, but he should be very good in a long and hard race. He has not trained (or at least uploaded) rides to Strava since Ronde van Vlaanderen, I guess he felt fatigued. Dylan Teuns and Fred Wright shined on Sunday – and it is fair to say, so did Tratnik! I think it is too hard for Wright, but the other three make a strong trio and more options lead to good results!
Madouas is the French hope from FDJ. Stunning rider really, finally getting a big breakthrough. I think it will be hard for him to win, but a top-10 is expected.
Matthews is also in good shape. Likely to be alone in the finale too which will make it difficult to win. A top-10 is almost certain.
UAE has Hirschi and Ayuso. A deadly duo and both of them are in good shape. I think the finale is too easy for Ayuso but Hirschi is the optimal rider for a race such as this.
Barguil is in good shape too. I think he can follow most moves but the finale is too easy for him to challenge for the win. On another note, he is not slow in a sprint.
Quick-Step? I just don’t think they will pull a rabbit out of a hat.
SKA? We will see how he has recovered from illness. On paper, a strong contender if not set back.
Who will win?
I will stick to my theory, having multiple options will get you the win. So does Bahrain-Victorious. I feel frisky, I will take a surprise win for Jan Tratnik. He is riding well and has a big engine.