Less chances for puncheurs and attackers were favoured with the punchy Cauberg earlier in the finale. That was last year’s story. It remains the same, yet the final lap now features even narrower roads. Positioning will be everything, while a successful peloton-chase is next to impossible.
With 45 kilometres to go the route offers its steepest hills. Firstly, Gulpenerberg, Kruisberg and Eyserbosweg in rapid succession, and then Keuterberg and Cauberg. These five climbs are clustered within a section of 30 kilometres. It’s perfect to strike here – or to rev up and get rid of a lot of riders.
Almost 3 kilometres after cresting the Cauberg the final lap bell rings. The round amounts to 16 kilometres and mixes up alley-like roads with climbs up the Geulhemmerberg and Bemelerberg.
Last year, the race ignited on Kruisberg, while Kwiatkowski and Gilbert made the decisive move on Bemelerberg. The race came down to a two-up sprint with Gilbert besting the Pole on the line. It was the Walloon’s fourth victory at the Amstel (2017, 2014, 2011, 2010). Other – still active – victors in the only Dutch classic on the calendar are Enrico Gasparatto (2016, 2012), Michal Kwiatkowski (2015), Roman Kreuziger (2013), Damiano Cunego (2008), Stefan Schumacher (2007) and Davide Rebellin (2004). The last two are the only non-competing former winners in 2018.
Until now, Tiesj Benoot (Strade Bianche), Vincenzo Nibali (Milan-San Remo), Peter Sagan (Paris-Roubaix and Gent-Wevelgem) and Niki Terpstra (Tour of Flanders and E3 Harelbeke) pocketed the major Classics of 2018. Other riders that are on a roll this season are Michal Kwiatkowski (overall winner Tirreno-Adriatico and Volta ao Algarve) and Tim Wellens. Last Wednesday, the Flemish attacker kicked off his hilly campaign with a strong solo-victory in Brabantse Pijl, while he won the Ruta del Sol in February and Paris-Nice’s points classification in March. Winning the first two stages in the hilly Tour of the Basque Country, Julian Alaphilippe is another contender who is in fine form.
If Gilbert wins the Amstel Gold Race, he equals Jans Raas’ record of five victories.
Favourites 2018 Amstel Gold Race
***** Michal Kwiatkowski, Philippe Gilbert, Tiesj Benoot, Julian Alaphilippe
**** Alejandro Valverde, Michael Matthews, Tim Wellens, Vincenzo Nibali
*** Daryl Impey, Bob Jungels, Peter Sagan, Michael Albasini, Michael Valgren
** Diego Ulissi, Oliver Naesen, Nathan Haas, Dylan Teuns, Niki Terpstra
* Greg Van Avermaet, Jasper Stuyven, Fabio Felline, Sep Vanmarcke, Bauke Mollema