The 2021 UCI WorldTour continues for the men and women with the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday. Amstel Gold Race is the Netherlands’ biggest road cycling event. The race also traditionally signifies the start of Ardennes week. Along with La Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège, the Amstel Gold Race is part of the three races known as the Ardennes classics.
The 2020 Amstel Gold Race was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This means that we have to go back to 2019 to find the defending champions of this race. On the men’s side of things, Mathieu van der Poel came out of nowhere in the final few kilometers to take the win. Kasia Niewiadoma won in reverse fashion in the women’s race, just holding off a charge from behind to secure victory.
Both the men’s and the women’s race take place on a circuit featuring the three climbs of the Bemelerberg, Cauberg and Geulhemmerberg. The Cauberg is the most difficult of the bunch, with steep gradients reaching well over 10%.
The women’s race is likely to be decided by the Cauberg, with the final ascent coming just two kilometers from the finish.
In the men’s event, the Cauberg features for the final time with 18 kilometers remaining. As we saw in 2019, this means there is more time for groups to come back and contest the finish.
The 2019 podium was made up of Kasia Niewiadoma, Annemiek van Vleuten and Marriane Vos. It is extremely likely that these three riders will have a role to play in the finale of the 2021 edition as well.
Niewiadoma has been solid this season, picking up a top ten, a top five and a podium spot at Strade Bianche, Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Dwars door Vlaanderen.
Van Vleuten beat Niewiadoma at Dwars door Vlaanderen, and followed that performance up with a hugely impressive victory at Ronde van Vlaanderen five days later.
Vos has also been strong, taking victory at Gent-Wevelgem and finishing on the podium of two other races.
SD Worx will have two former winners at their disposal, with Anna van der Breggen and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak on the startlist.
Amanda Spratt finished on the podium back in 2018, so Team BikeExchange’s hopes are likely to rest on her shoulders.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig of FDJ and Elisa Longo Borghini of Trek are two riders who have managed top tens at this race in the past.
Team DSM rider Liane Lippert could be another rider to watch on Sunday. She is only 23, but she has shown promise on this sort of terrain.
We will see a new men’s champion in 2021, as Mathieu van der Poel will not be lining up at the start. Instead, we have a lengthy list of riders who could be capable of claiming the podium’s top step on Sunday.
Deceuninck – Quick Step will have a few different cards to play in search of victory. Reigning World Champion Jullian Alaphilippe is the ace, but the 21-year-old Mauri Vansevenant has also had a very solid season.
Tom Pidcock of Ineos deserves a mention after his recent victory at De Brabantse Pijl. The win was the first of Pidcock’s professional career, and another very impressive step forward for the young Brit.
BORA – hansgrohe have a strong contender in Max Schachmann, who finished fifth in 2019.
Jumbo-Visma will be relying on the very intriguing duo of Wout van Aert and Primož Roglič. Although they have different skill sets, both men are entirely capable of winning a race such as this one.
Marc Hirschi has had a quiet season thus far, but he was incredible in the Ardennes classics last season. If he can manage to conjure up that form for Sunday, he will be a real threat for the win.
Jakob Fuglsang of Astana is another rider who has been very good in hilly one day races in recent years.
Given the variety in the finishes, we have the potential to see two very different races on Sunday.
Chances are that the women’s race will be won by the rider who is strongest on the final climb of the Cauberg.
In the men’s race, there is a much higher chance of a regrouping and a reduced bunch sprint.
Either way, the winners are going to have to combine good legs with the tactical foresight required to make a move at the right time. 2019’s editions of this race were absolutely thrilling. Let’s hope for more of the same on Sunday.
My Picks: Annemiek van Vleuten and Julian Alaphilippe
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