Amstel Gold Race
Amstel Gold Race
Ardennes Classics kick off with Amstel Gold

Sit back and relax as the climbing specialists start to take centre stage for the first time in the spring classics, as they tackle the 54th edition of the Amstel Gold Race this Sunday. Although it is held in the Netherlands, the Amstel Gold is in fact the first of the three Ardennes Classics – the other two being La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege – and it pits riders against 265.7km and, for a country renowned for its overall lack of hills, a staggering 35 of them.

Starting off smoothly at the Vrijthof in Maastricht, within 10km, the route presents riders with their first acid test – the opening hill of, Slingerberg. This short, sharp climb sets the template and the tempo for several loops through the Limburg region, with the Cauberg and Geulhemmerberg included three times. But it’s with 45km remaining that Amstel’s truly set alight thanks to the three-in-a-row steep ramps of Gulpenberg, Kruisberg and Eyserbosweg and the culminating 900m, 4.5% Bemelberg – the final test for legs and lungs before the narrow alley-like Franse Steeg gives way to the flowing wide finale.

One man who knows this race better than most is Philippe Gilbert. The Belgian has won six Ardennes Classics, including four Amstel Golds. His most recent victory came in 2017 when he edged out Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski. Fresh from his victory at the ‘Queen of the Classics’, Paris-Roubaix, can he consolidate his form and make it Amstel win number five?

Philippe Gilbert

Gilbert will face fearsome competition from Movistar Team’s Alejandro Valverde. The 38-year-old’s Ardennes record is even better than Gilbert’s, with nine to his name. However, Amstel remains elusive with Valverde’s best so far being second place.

Michal Kwiatkowski looks Team Sky’s best bet. His second in 2017 followed victory in 2015, albeit his recent crash and withdrawal at the Tour of the Basque Country places question marks over his form. Wout Poels has shone in the Ardennes before, winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2016, so could also challenge for Amstel honours.

Wout van Aert once again seems set to lead Team Jumbo-Visma in their spring classics programme. The 24-year-old three-time cyclocross World Champion will seek out the experienced Robert Gesink to support his challenge for victory, this being the eighth time Gesink’s raced Amstel Gold.

AG2R La Mondiale’s challenge is likely to come from Tour de France contender Romain Bardet, who showed with his third place at the 2018 edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege that he’s more than just a GrandTour rider.