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In 2018, the latest round of changes to the Amstel Gold finale – the third since 2012 – is deceptively minor, given that “all” that is altered is the way that the race comes off the two, relatively easy, final ascents, the Geulhemmerberg and Bemelerberg, with 13.7 kilometres and 6.9 kilometres to go.
A new finishing circuit looks set to ramp up the glorious unpredictability of Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race – the first (and for many, the best) of the Ardennes Week trifecta. We take a closer look at the biggest Dutch race of the season – the only of the three Ardennes crowns to elude the balding pate of Alejandro Valverde.
In 2017, the widely praised removal of the fourth and final ascent of the emblematic Cauberg climb made for a far more open finale to Amstel Gold, even if the winner, Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), was hardly a newcomer to the top-most podium step of the Netherlands’ biggest WorldTour race.
However, this change could matter much more than one might think. The roads that follow the Geulhemmerberg and Bemelerberg are reportedly highly technical, many of them containing downhill segments, meaning chase groups will have their work cut out to try and bring back the breakaways that go clear on the climbs. If it rains, their task will be even harder.
Other crucial pinch points among the 35 ascents that pepper the 263-kilometre course are better-known terrain and more obvious: the Loorberg climb, with 54 kilometres to go, the Eyserbosweg, 37 kilometres from the finish, and above all the Keutenberg, 28 kilometres from the finish and rated the single steepest ascent of the Netherlands. Because the ascents are so spread out in Amstel Gold, even the more versatile cobbled Classics racers still have an excellent chance of success unlike in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which tends to be seen as a Classic for stage racers and climbers.