CADEL EVANS GREAT OCEAN ROAD RACE
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The twisty roads of the Amstel Gold Race and its steep hills of the Ardennes have often celebrated local heroes but, on a few occasions, German stars have risen to glory and there are new talents heading for the punchy classics with high ambitions: Team DSM’s Liane Lippert, aiming to take another step up after a strong Ardennes campaign last autumn, and Bora-Hansgrohe’s Maximilian Schachmann, who has already finished in the top 5 of the Amstel Gold Race, the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Both of them are heading for Limburg where, on Sunday, they’ll face a new circuit for the 2021 Amstel Gold Race and Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition: a 16.9km loop through Valkenburg and Maastricht, up and down the Geulhemmerberg, the Bemelerberg and the Cauberg. The course bears resemblance to those of the UCI Road World Championships in 1998 and 2012 when they were organised in Valkenburg. For the anecdote, in those 2012 UCI Worlds, Schachmann won bronze in the Junior individual time trial.
“Lippy” and the women’s peloton will be first in action on Sunday, at 8:30am, with 116.3km to cover and a finish expected just before noon. Then it will be up to “Max” and the men’s peloton to try to succeed Mathieu Van der Poel on their 233.6km route.
The organisers designed this new route to align with the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. They have managed to preserve the essence of the Amstel Gold Race by creating a tricky route with iconic bergs inviting attacks to open up gaps, just as Lippert aims to do.
“The climbs in the area are super punchy and suit my type of riding well, especially those at Amstel Gold Race,” said the young German climber ahead of the punchers’ festival that takes the competitors from Maastricht to Liège, passing by Huy. “I know the roads really well because they are part of our training routes near the Keep Challenging Center, in Sittard, so I’m looking forward to that one in particular.”
At 23 years old, the winner of the 2020 UCI Women’s WorldTour Youth Ranking – thanks notably to her victory in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (Australia) and 5th place in the UCI Road World Championships – spends her time between Team DSM’s training centre in the Netherlands and her parents’ home in the south of Germany, close to the Swiss and Austrian mountains. She has participated once in the Amstel Gold Race, in 2019 – DNF – when she was only 21 but already a champion in the making. She’s hit new heights since then.
Last autumn, after taking the best German result in the road races in Imola, she was 8th up the Mur de Huy and 10th a few days later in Liège. Ahead of her were much more seasoned riders, with the exception of her young French teammate Juliette Labous (8th), who is also heading to the Netherlands this weekend. This punchy duo was already set to tear up the Dutch roads last autumn, before the local situation prevented the event from being held. No doubt they’ll be ready as racing returns to Limburg!
Maximilian Schachmann is also approaching the Amstel Gold Race and the Ardennes classics with strong ambitions. At 27 years old, he’s won Paris-Nice for the second year in a row and his record shows he’s one of the most efficient riders on hilly terrain with stage wins in the Giro d’Italia, the Itzulia Basque Country, and the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, along with a podium finish in Liège-Bastogne-Liège two years ago.
In the spring of 2019, he also finished 5th in an extraordinary edition of the Amstel Gold Race and was 5th up the Mur de Huy. Now that he’s brought Germany back to the forefront in the men’s punchy classics – Hanka Kupfernagel, Trixi Worrack and Judith Arndt having all shone in the women’s events in their days – Schachmann could become the first winner in Liège since Dietrich Thurau triumphed in 1979. Hermann Buse is the only other German rider to have won the Doyenne, in 1930.
“I want to be at my best for the Classics”, said Schachmann when he won Paris-Nice. A week later, he was happy with his sensations in the first Monument of the season, Milano-Sanremo (14th): “My form is in the right place. So I’m satisfied with how the day went, even if the result ultimately didn’t reflect how I felt throughout the race.” A top 10 finish on stage 2 of the Itzulia Basque Country showed him “the form is still clearly quite good.”
The hills ahead of them, in the Netherlands and in Belgium, may very well offer some of the best opportunities for Liane Lippert and Maximilian Schachmann to make the most of their form.