The UCI World Tour is back this Sunday with the Amstel Gold Race, the perfect link between Flanders' cobbles and Ardennes' hills. Will Mathieu van der Poel offer the Netherlands their first victory in almost 20 years? His compatriots Anna van der Breggen
and Chantal Blaak are also eyeing victory in Valkenburg with the Ladies’ Amstel Gold Race.
Is Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step) the greatest classics rider of the century? The debate is full-on since last Sunday and his triumph at Roubaix to claim victory in a fourth different Monument (in addition to the Giro di Lombardia, Liège-Bastogne-Liège
and the Ronde van Vlaanderen), a feat unprecedented since the 1980s.
Is Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) the next classics superstar? Already one of the greatest to ever ride cyclo-cross, the Dutch wonderkid never ceases to impress when he takes to the road and offered another display of pure talent last Wednesday,
claiming victory on the Brabantse Pijl, ahead of the leader of the UCI Individual World Ranking, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step).
The 54th edition of the Amstel Gold Race, on Sunday, will offer new elements to keep debate alive as we enter a new sequence in the classics campaign, with fewer cobbles and much more climbing. Philippe Gilbert, Mathieu van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe
will all line up in Maastricht, as well as the UCI World Champion, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team), his predecessors, Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe), and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), the Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and the winner
of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First).
The peloton taking on the 6th edition of the Ladies’ Amstel Gold Race is also star-studded. The two winners of the race since its inclusion in the Women’s World Tour in 2017, UCI World Champion, Anna van der Breggen, and her Boels-Dolmans
teammate, Dutch compatriot and predecessor in the rainbow jersey, Chantal Blaak, will try to keep Dutch domination going, as will Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb), Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv), and Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott).
Among the foreign contenders with the best chances of overcoming the local champions are Australia’s Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott), Poland’s Katarzyna Nieziadoma (Canyon SRAM Racing) and USA’s Coryin Rivera (Team Sunweb), while Britain’s
Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) makes her much anticipated return to competition after giving birth last September.
The women will fight for another chance to write cycling history over 126.8km. They will face 19 climbs, including four ascents up the famous Cauberg (800m at an average gradient of 12%), where Philippe Gilbert himself wrote a large chunk of history.
He was virtually unbeatable on this climb as we entered the 2010s, with victories in 2010 and 2011 in the Amstel Gold Race and the UCI World Champion title in Valkenburg the following year. He went on to win the Amstel again in 2014 and in 2017, when
the organisers redesigned the finale and pushed the Cauberg further back from the finish line.
“The Amstel on Sunday, then Liège in two weeks… I’m not looking too far ahead, I want to make the most of my condition and think that it’s possible,” Philippe Gilbert said right after winning Paris-Roubaix. The Belgian
star explained that he had won his “crazy bet” on the cobblestone classics but also reminded us that “originally, my abilities are more suited for Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Amstel Gold Race”.
“I’m ready for the Amstel Gold Race,” Mathieu van der Poel echoed on Wednesday. The Dutch rising star has an impressive record in the World Tour (three races ridden: 4th in Gent Wevelgem, winner of Dwaars door Vlaanderen and 4th at the
Ronde van Vlaanderen) and has established his capacity to shine in long, intense races. With his punchy and sprinting abilities, he is hot favourite to bring the Netherlands their first victory in the Amstel since Erik Dekker in 2001, and to join
his father Adrie van der Poel in the record books.
Philippe Gilbert knows how to win in Valkenburg – and he’s not the only former winner lining up in Maastricht as Dimension Data’s power duo, Enricao Gasparotto (winner in 2012 and 2016) and Roman Kreuziger (2013), will also be there.
It remains to be seen if past successes will be enough to counter Van der Poel’s rise to the top.