Amstel Gold Race
|Date||Mid to late-April|
|English name||Amstel Gold Race|
|Local name(s)||Amstel Gold Race (Dutch)|
|Competition||UCI World Tour|
|Organiser||Amstel Gold Race Foundation|
|Race director||Leo van Vliet|
|Editions||49 (as of 2014)|
|First winner||Jean Stablinski (FRA)|
|Most wins||Jan Raas (NED) (5 times)|
|Most recent||Philippe Gilbert (BEL)|
The Amstel Gold Race is a road bicycle race held (mostly) in the southern part of the province of Limburg, Netherlands. Since 1989 it has been among the races included in season long rankings tables, as part of the UCI Road World Cup (1989–2004), the UCI ProTour (2005–2010), UCI World Ranking (2009–2010) and from 2011 the UCI World Tour. It is the most important road cycling event of the Netherlands.
The first race, on April 30, 1966, was organised by two Dutch sports promoters, Ton Vissers and Herman Krott, who together ran a company called Inter Sport.
Vissers was a house decorator and hockey player from Rotterdam whose break in cycling came in 1963 when a friend asked him to manage a minor team in the Tour of Holland. Those who were there say he was as hopeless as his riders. Officials banished him after he did a U-turn and drove back towards the oncoming race after hearing that one of his riders had punctured. Three years later, in 1966, he became manager of the Willem II professional team that at one time included the classics winner, Rik van Looy of Belgium.
Krott's background in cycling was scarcely deeper. He ran a car-parts dealership called HeKro and, because he admired the Dutch rider Peter Post, worked as his personal assistant. He had also worked as a salesman for Amstel. Together, Krott and Vissers organised small races across the Netherlands. Krott also used his contacts at Amstel to start an Amstel professional team and then the sponsorship to run an international professional race bigger than the round-the-houses events Inter Sport had been promoting until then.
The first Amstel Gold Race was announced for April 30, 1966, the national day of the Netherlands. The plan was to start from Amsterdam and follow a 280 km loop round the east of the country before finishing in the south-east at Maastricht. There would be prizes of 10,000 guilders — about €5,000 - of which a fifth would go to the winner.
Things started going wrong from the beginning. Krott and Vissers had announced the start, the finish and the distance without taking into account the many rivers and the zigzags needed to cross them. The course would be far longer than 280 km. Further plans were made to start in Utrecht, then in Rotterdam. The finish was moved from Maastricht to the unknown village of Meerssen. Less than three weeks before the start, the organisers realised they had not obtained permission to cross the Moerdijk bridge, the only way out of Rotterdam to the south. The route had again to be redrawn and the start moved to Breda in the south.
The problems had not ended. Whatever the police thought of the constant changes they were asked to approve, they now had bigger concerns. The Provos, militant hippies, had declared Holland a state of anarchy. At the other end of the social scale, Dutchmen were also protesting against the marriage of the queen's daughter, Beatrix, to a German, Claus von Amsberg. The police feared that a race organised on the royal family's big day would bring uprisings and possibly attacks.
On April 26, Vissers and Krott called off their race. But still there was a twist. A press conference to break the news had just started when the Dutch roads ministry in The Hague called to say the race could be run after all — provided it was never again scheduled for Koninginnedag.
The race was run, there were no serious protests, and the conditions set by the roads minister lost their significance. The Amstel Gold Race has never started in Amsterdam, Rotterdam or Utrecht and it never again started in Breda. The finish was moved to Maastricht from 1992 and after 1998 the race also started there.
Inter Sport ceased trading in 1970 and Herman Krott ran the race by himself until 1995. It was then taken over by the former professional Leo van Vliet.
The course has changed many times over the years. In 2005 the race took place almost entirely within the boundaries of the province of Limburg, but there have also been editions that covered significant parts of Belgium. Before 2003 the finish used to be in Maastricht. From 2003 till 2012 the finish was at the top of the Cauberg hill, in the Valkenburg municipality. The final was redesigned for the 2013 edition and the finish was moved from the top of the Cauberg to Berg en Terblijt, 1,8 kilometers after the Cauberg. The new finish will mirror the finish that was used for the 2012 UCI Road World Championships.
The race is the Netherlands' largest professional race but is frequently criticised for the danger of its course. The Netherlands is a densely populated country and the race runs through many suburbs and villages. With pressure on land being so great, many Dutch houses do not have garages and cars are left parked in the street. There are also many traffic-calming obstacles such as pinches, chicanes and speed humps, and further obstacles such as roundabouts and traffic islands. Crashes are not uncommon in the race.
The course is tough and selective, mainly because of the 31 hills that have to be climbed, some with angles as steep as 20% (Keutenberg). The Amstel can be confusing for first time riders, because the course features a lot of turns, plus some spots are visited more than one time during the race.
Velonews summarized the race in 2009 as follows:
This is the mack-daddy race on the Dutch calendar. It’s Holland’s most important event and Dutch [teams do their] best to try to dominate the demanding, 258.6km course... Held in the hilly Limburg region in southern Holland, Amstel Gold often gets bundled with next week’s Flèche and Liège races to create what pundits like to call “Ardennes week.” Though geographically distinct than the nearby Belgian Ardennes, the Limburg region serves up a similarly endless menu of steep, narrow climbs. Any race named after a beer should be a big party and tens of thousands of beer-guzzling Dutch fans turn up to line the endless string of bergs and clog outdoor beer gardens to cheer on the pack as they ply treacherously narrow roads. The course starts in the main square at Maastricht and, since 2003, ends atop the Cauberg climb just above Valkenburg (site of another huge party). The route map looks like a plate of spaghetti, with four loops tracing back and forth over deceptively steep climbs. An endless string of 31 climbs are wickedly steep, with Keutenberg featuring ramps as steep as 20 percent. Coupled with the narrow roads, strong winds and the danger of crashing, Amstel is one of the season’s most nerve-wracking races. The addition of the Cauberg finish dramatically altered the race dynamics. The finish used to be on the flats alongside the Maas River, giving teams a chance to regroup after the last climb and position their sprinters for a sometimes-large group sprint. [It now favors whippet-thin climbers and hilly course specialists.]
Attempting to explain the difficulty of the course Peter Easton recounts a mathematician's calculations:
...applying logic to overcome a sense of incomprehension is the key to understanding this race. And there is truth in numbers. Six of the climbs come in the first 92 kilometers — one every 15.2 kilometers. The remaining 25 come over the final 165 kilometers. That’s one every 6.6 kilometers. Breaking it down further, the final hour of racing has eight climbs in 42 kilometers. Now we’re down to one every 5.25 km. At 40 km/h, that’s one every 7 ½ minutes. Not overly funny, and definitely all business. 
The current hills (as of 2012) in the Amstel Gold Race are:
|Number||Name||Kilometer||Location||Length (in m)||Average climb (%)|
|Number||Name||Kilometer||Location||Length (in m)||Average climb (%)|
|Raas, JanJan Raas (NED)||5||1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982|
|Gilbert, PhilippePhilippe Gilbert (BEL)||3||2010, 2011, 2014|
|Merckx, EddyEddy Merckx (BEL)||2||1973, 1975|
|Knetemann, GerrieGerrie Knetemann (NED)||2||1974, 1985|
|Järmann, RolfRolf Järmann (SUI)||2||1993, 1998|
- Finish Amstel Gold Race niet op Cauberg
- Easton, Peter. "Amstel '10 Preview: Double Dutch Does the Trick," PezCyclingNews, April 16, 2010. http://pezcyclingnews.com/?pg=fullstory&id=8159&status=True&catname=Latest%20News
- Amstel Gold Race Route
- ^ Graat, John (April 16, 2005). De Gold Race is allang geen 'poenkoers' meer. Trouw (newspaper), p. 21.
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