The long-awaited return of a proper Ardennes week is here, and it begins with Amstel Gold Race on Sunday. The Dutch one-day classic features Holland’s best-known hills, including four ascents of the Cauberg.
Lizzie Deignan and Anna van der Breggen headline a Boels-Dolmans squad capable of standing on the top step in any of three upcoming UCI Women’s WorldTour races: Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Amstel Gold Race is of particular interest to Boels-Dolmans because of the route's proximity to the team's title sponsors.
“It's an important week for sure - for me personally too,” said Van der Breggen. “There are two new Women's WorldTour races on the program this week, in which big prizes can be won.”
“We can win by doing what we always do,” Van der Breggen added. “We make a plan and execute it as a team. It’s what we do best. We bring a good line-up to AGR. If everyone is at their peak shape on Sunday and if we keep thinking about the team effort, then the victory is in reach."
Amstel Gold Race starts in the city centre of Maastricht and takes the peloton on a 66-kilometre lap to Valkenburg. There are eight climbs on the opening lap, including the iconic Cauberg, which comes only 2.5 kilometres before the peloton reaches the first passage of the finish line.
Following the opening lap, the race covers an 18.5-kilometre circuit three times. Each lap takes in the Geulhemmerberg, Bemelerberg and Cauberg. When the third lap has been completed, 17 climbs and 121 kilometres will have been tackled.
The Amstel Gold finish line is 2.5 kilometres from the top of the Cauberg where the men’s race has finished for the last several years. Although the men’s finish line has been moved to seven kilometres after the Belemerberg, the Cauberg will form the final and likely most decisive climb in the women’s race.
“We know the roads and have researched the route very well,” said sport director Danny Stam. “Our main sponsors, Boels Rental and Dolmans Group, are both located within 80 kilometres of the Ardennes classics. This gives us a bit of extra motivation."
A LOOK BACK
To look back at the Amstel Gold Race, we return to 2001-2003. Although Amstel Gold Race has been a staple on the men’s calendar since 1966, the women’s event was only introduced in 2001. It was discontinued three years later. Debby Mansveld won the inaugural event. Current women's race director Leontien van Moorsel won in 2002. Nicole Cooke was the last Amstel Gold winner 14 years ago in 2003.
“The Netherlands has always brought a lot of quality to women’s cycling,” said Van der Breggen. “But last year, the Ronde van Drenthe was the only Women’s WorldTour race in the Netherlands. The return of the women’s Amstel Gold Race is a logical next step to expand the calendar.”
A LOOK AHEAD
Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team started the season intending to target the Ardennes. While injuries and illness have hampered the squad’s cobbled campaign, the Dutch-registered squad is on the upswing as evidenced by its performance at the Healthy Ageing Tour. Van der Breggen, who has won Flèche Wallone the last two years, and Deignan have tailored their training for the next three races. Megan Guarnier, sidelined with a concussion since her crash at Omloop Hageland, returns to the peloton in Maastricht.
“Compared to most other riders in the peloton I have raced less, so I'm not so tired,” said Van der Breggen. “I'm in perfect shape at the moment and look forward to the coming week.”
“Although I cannot deny the pressure will be higher than normal, we won't do much different tactically,” added Stam. “We will race aggressively because we like tough races the best.”
Here’s what we know currently about the Amstel Gold Race women’s broadcast. Dutch broadcasters NOS go live with the women’s race at 1:25pm CET on NOS Studio Sport. Eurosport Australia and Eurosport Asia listings include the Amstel Gold Race broadcast. Currently Eurosport in most parts of Europe does not. If you’re wanting to watch from Europe (outside of Holland) or North America, you’ll likely have to resort to using bootleg links. A more complete "how to watch" guide can be found here. As usual, the UCI will have a 10-minute highlight package on Monday.
Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team for Amstel Gold Race:
Anna van der Breggen