Amstel Gold Race
|Date||Mid to late April|
|Region||Limburg, the Netherlands|
|English name||Amstel Gold Race|
|Competition||UCI World Tour|
|Organiser||Amstel Gold Race Foundation|
|Race director||Leo van Vliet|
|Editions||51 (as of 2016)|
|First winner||Jean Stablinski (FRA)|
|Most wins||Jan Raas (NED) (5 times)|
|Most recent||Enrico Gasparotto (ITA)|
The Amstel Gold Race is an annual road bicycle race in the province of Limburg, the Netherlands. It traditionally marks the turning point of the spring classics, with the climbers and stage racers replacing the cobbled classics riders as the favourites.
Since 1989 the event has been included in season-long competitions at the highest level of UCI, as part of the UCI Road World Cup (1989–2004), the UCI ProTour (2005–2010), UCI World Ranking (2009–2010) and since 2011 of the UCI World Tour. It is the only one-day World Tour race staged in the Netherlands and is considered the most important Dutch road cycling event. Dutchman Jan Raas holds the winning record with five victories.
- 1 History
- 2 Route
- 3 Race characteristics
- 4 Winners
- 5 Women's Race
- 6 Cyclotour Gold Race
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The first race
The Amstel Gold Race was created by Dutch sports promoters Ton Vissers and Herman Krott, who ran a company called Inter Sport.[N 1][N 2] Their dream was to create a Dutch classic cycle race able to compete with the monument races of Flanders and Italy. The first edition was announced to be held on 30 April 1966, the Netherlands' National Holiday. The plan was to start in Amsterdam, before branching out to the east of the country and finishing in Maastricht, in the southeast of the country, totaling 280 km.[N 3]
However, many problems emerged. Krott and Vissers had neglected the many rivers along the route and miscalculated the zigzags needed to cross them, making the intended distance far longer than 280 km. New plans were made to start in Utrecht, then Rotterdam; and to stage an alternative finish in the small village of Meerssen in Limburg. Moreover, less than three weeks before the start, organizers realized they had not obtained permission to cross the Moerdijk Bridge, the only southern way out of Rotterdam. The route had to be redrawn again and the start was moved further south, to Breda. On top of all that, militant hippies of Provo had declared the Netherlands a state of anarchy in 1966.[N 4] Authorities feared that a race organized on the royal family's celebration day would cause possible uprisings.
Four days before the anticipated date, Vissers and Krott called off their race and were staging a press conference, when the Dutch roads ministry in The Hague called to say that the race could be organized after all — provided it would never again be scheduled on Queen's Day.
On Saturday 30 April 1966, the first Amstel Gold Race was raced from Breda to Meerssen, without serious incidents. Three riders of the Ford-France team sprinted for victory. Dutchman Jan Hugens suffered a mechanical failure in the final meters and was beaten by Frenchman Jean Stablinski who won the inaugural edition. At 302 km, it was the longest edition ever. There were 120 starters, of which only 30 finished. Despite its original intent, the Amstel Gold Race has never started in Amsterdam; nor in Rotterdam or Utrecht, three of Holland's largest cities.[N 5]
Search for identity
In 1967 the start location moved to Helmond, in front of sponsor Amstel's headquarters, and the distance was scaled back to 213 km. Arie den Hartog won the second edition, becoming the first Dutch winner. In 1968 the race was held on 21 September because of a calendar conflict; the only time the Amstel Gold Race was ever run in autumn. Dutchman Harrie Steevens won the race over a distance of 254 km.
In 1969 the race returned to April on the calendar. Guido Reybrouck won the fourth edition, the first in a series of Belgian wins. The race was affected by severe snow and hailstorm, forcing many riders to abandon due to hypothermia.
A young race, the Amstel Gold Race struggled to find its place on the international calendar between the much older cobbled classics and the Ardennes classics and had problems attracting the best riders. For several years, cycling greatness Eddy Merckx did not participate because organizers could not pay his starting fee. In 1973 race director Herman Krott agreed to pay a considerable sum to Merckx' team, provided that he would win the race. Merckx started and won the Amstel Gold Race more than three minutes ahead of the second-place finisher. Two years later, he was the first rider to win a second time.
In the late 1970s Dutchman Jan Raas won the Amstel Gold Race a record five times, of which four consecutive. Raas was able to rely on his strong sprint finish, but also won two solo victories. Dutch media started coining the phrase Amstel Gold Raas. In 1983 Australian Phil Anderson became the first non-European winner.
Move to Maastricht
In 1991 the finish of the Amstel Gold Race moved to Maastricht, Limburg's capital city, and since 1998 it also started there. The character of the race was more and more defined by the hill zone in the south of the province. Only two Dutch riders, Michael Boogerd and Erik Dekker, have won the race in the last two decades. Both Boogerd and Dekker beat American Lance Armstrong in a two-man sprint in Maastricht, in 1999 and 2001 respectively. The 2001 race only had 37 finishers of a 190-strong pack, the fewest number in modern times. Boogerd shares the record of seven podium finishes with Jan Raas, having achieved one victory, four second places, two third places and several other top-ten finishes.
In 2003 the finish moved to the top of the Cauberg climb in Valkenburg. Kazakh rider Alexander Vinokourov won the first uphill-finish edition with an attack before the Cauberg. In 2013 the finish was moved 1,8 km away from the top of the Cauberg, near the centre of Valkenburg, resulting in a mainly flat finishing straight. The most successful rider in recent years has been classics specialist Philippe Gilbert. The Belgian won the race three times since 2010, basing his victories on late bursts of speed and power on the Cauberg. In 2015 Polish rider Michał Kwiatkowski became the first ruling world champion to win the race since Bernard Hinault in 1981.
Although the Netherlands are known for their flat, wind-affected roads, the Amstel Gold Race takes place in the hilly southern region of Limburg. The route twists through the rolling Limburg countryside, often turning abruptly to climb as many hills (bergs) as possible. The most notable climb is the Cauberg, which is covered four times, the last time at the very end of the race finale. The total distance is 250 km. Team tactics and race knowledge often play a vital part in deciding the winner of the race.
Beginning in Maastricht, the route heads immediately north towards the first ascents of the day, the Slingerberg and Adsteeg, which the riders must tackle after less than 15 kilometres of racing. Once over the Adsteeg, the race begins its move south, with a brief diversion west to take in the Sibbergrubbe before entering a series of irregular circuits.
The first ascent of the Cauberg marks the transition into the circuits and comes just 54 km into the day's race. From there, the race makes its first passage over the finish line before taking on the Geulhemmerberg and heading south. The climbs come thick and fast as the race nears its halfway point at the Drielandenpunt with Germany and Belgium.
As the riders make their way back north to complete the circuit, Gulpenerberg is addressed a first time, a 600 m ascent that peaks at 13%. The race winds its way up and down five more bergs before it goes once more up the Cauberg, the 22nd climb of the day. The second of the circuits is shorter, featuring nine climbs over less than 60 kilometres. It includes repeat ascents of Geulhemmerberg, Loorberg, Gulpenerberg and Cauberg, while the Kruisberg makes its only appearance. The Kruisberg, the 27th of the day, averages 8.3% over 710 m and tops out at 12.7%.
As the riders hit the Cauberg a third and penultimate time, 18.5 km remain, with three climbs, including Eyserbosweg. The final ascent of the Cauberg, with its top at 1,8 km from the finish, is usually decisive. The final run-in to the line is predominantly flat with a slight rise in the last few hundred metres.
|Start and finish locations|
Although the race is younger than many other cycling classics, the course changed considerably over the years. The race's inaugural edition started in Breda in North Brabant, but quickly moved closer to the hilly region. From 1971 to 1997 the start was in Heerlen. Since 1998 the race starts on the central market square in Maastricht's Inner City.
Since 2005 the race is run entirely within the boundaries of Limburg. Past editions had covered significant parts of Liège in Belgium, addressing the Côte de Hallembaye, meant to cause a bigger selection.
From 1991 until 2002 the race ended in Maastricht as well. The finish was on the Maasboulevard, keeping the flat run-in to the finish. In 2000 sprint specialist Erik Zabel won the race, leading out the sprint of a 20-strong group.
From 2003 to 2012 the finish was at the top of the Cauberg climb, in the Valkenburg municipality, close to Maastricht. The finale was redesigned in 2013 and the finish was moved west, to the hamlet of Berg en Terblijt, 1,8 kilometers from the top of the Cauberg. The altered finish mirrors the location that was used for the 2012 UCI Road World Championships in Valkenburg.
Although the race location in Limburg is not part of the Ardennes, neither geographically nor geologically, it is often considered the opening race of the Ardennes Week. In 2004 the Amstel Gold Race has swapped places with Liège–Bastogne–Liège on the international calendar. Ever since, the race is held on the Sunday after the cobbled classic Paris–Roubaix and before the Ardennes classic Flèche Wallonne the next Wednesday.
Until 2002, the Amstel Gold Race had a flat run-in to the finish and was often won by riders excelling in the cobbled classics, notably the Tour of Flanders. In recent decades, organizers chose to shift the focus of the race to the hills and the character of the race changed. The peloton is usually made up of the same riders starting in the Ardennes races; classics riders with sufficient climbing abilities and even Grand Tour specialists.
The Dutch hills, in the very south of Limburg, are the Netherlands' only hilly region. The chalk-loess relief was formed by the foothills of the neighbouring Ardennes and Eifel low mountain ranges. The hills define the character of the race: they are shorter and not as high as in the Ardennes, but occur much more frequently than in Liège–Bastogne–Liège. The highest point of the region and the race is Vaalserberg at 322,7 m above sea level; the top of the Cauberg is at 133,7 m altitude.
The present course features more than 30 short climbs which come in greater succession as the race progresses, meaning riders have little time to recover in between the hills. 25 climbs are covered in the last 165 kilometers of the race, with eight coming in the final 45 kilometers. The steepest are the Cauberg, Keutenberg and Eyserbosweg. Some ascents are as steep as 22% (Keutenberg), others are more gently sloped. In contrast to the cobbled bergs in the Tour of Flanders, all the hills in Limburg are aspahlted nowadays.
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.
|Number||Name||Kilometer||Location||Length (in m)||Average climb (%)|
|Number||Name||Kilometer||Location||Length (in m)||Average climb (%)|
The race is the Netherlands' largest professional race but is frequently criticized for the danger of its course. The route runs on narrow roads, through often densely-populated suburbs and villages. Due to its high population density and the pressure on land so great, many Dutch houses do not have garages and cars are left parked in the street. Much of the course is urban, with lots of traffic-calming devices such as speed bumps, pinches, bollards, ramps, chicanes, refuge islands and roundabouts, prompting Scotland’s Robert Millar to call it the Tour of the Roundabouts  Crashes are common in the race.
Riders in italics are still active.
|5||Jan Raas (NED)||1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982|
|3||Philippe Gilbert (BEL)||2010, 2011, 2014|
|2||Eddy Merckx (BEL)||1973, 1975|
|Gerrie Knetemann (NED)||1974, 1985|
|Rolf Järmann (SUI)||1993, 1998|
|Enrico Gasparotto (ITA)||2012, 2016|
Wins per country
From 2001 to 2003, three editions of the Amstel Gold Race for elite women were held. In 2003, it was part of the UCI Women's Road World Cup. The race started in Maastricht 30 minutes after the men's, and was run over 114 km, taking in nine climbs (Maasberg, Adsteeg, Lange Raarberg, Bergseweg, Sibbergrubbe, Cauberg, Bemelerberg, Keutenberg) and similarly finishing on the Cauberg.
The race was discontinued after the third edition because organization on the same day and on largely the same roads as the men's race proved too difficult on the highly irregular circuits.
Cyclotour Gold Race
Since 2001 there is a race for cyclotourists, organized annually on the day before the professional event. Cycling fanatics and recreational bike riders can ride trajectories of 60, 100, 125, 150, 200 or 240 km. Every distance finishes on the location of the professional race, immediately after the climb of the Cauberg. The number of participants is restricted to 12,000, in order to secure riders' safety. In 2009 the official website crashed, because of a run on the tickets. In 2010 all 12,000 tickets were sold in just 38 minutes.
- Vissers was a house decorator and field 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 the Netherlands. 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.
- Krott's background in cycling was barely 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 organized 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.
- Prizemoney would be 10,000 guilders — about €5,000 - of which a fifth would go to the winner.
- At the other end of the social scale, Dutch were also protesting against the marriage of the queen's daughter, Beatrix, to a German, Claus von Amsberg.
- Inter Sport ceased trading in 1970 and Herman Krott directed the race by himself until 1995, when it was taken over by former professional cyclist Leo van Vliet.
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- Finish Amstel Gold Race niet op Cauberg
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- Jones, Jeff. "38th Amstel Gold Race - CDM. Nicole Cooke holds off charging peloton". autobus.cyclingnews.com. CyclingNews. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
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- ^ Graat, John (April 16, 2005). De Gold Race is allang geen 'poenkoers' meer. Trouw (newspaper), p. 21.
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