With star-studded field and the tropical ambiance this years Amstel Race Curaçao will certainly live up to the expectations. This race is fast becoming THE last race of the season for the crème de la crème of the world’s elite riders (with a small but clearly discernable home bias for Dutch riders in the selection process). Since I lived on Curaçao for almost three years and actually rode the Amstel Race Curaçao twice I appointed myself as the official PdC ARC previewer.
Therefore, after the flip, all you ever wanted to know about the Amstel Race Curaçao! And a lot more! (Don’t say I didn’t warn you…)
The Amstel WHAT???
The Amstel Race Curaçao. A race over aprox. 80 km on the beautiful Caribbean island of Curaçao. Big names from the peloton are invited to spend a week vacation on the island and to ride the ARC at the end of the week. The race is open for all kinds of participants. It is a great way to lure cycling fans to the island and to promote the rich diversity of recreational possibilities of Curaçao.
When is this happening?
This is a after-season party that is quickly becoming the favorite last race of the season for the elite riders. It is planned on the first Saturday of November. This year it will be the 7th of November. It starts 14.00 hours local time. Which is Atlantic Standard Time, one hour behind US Eastern Standard Time and four hours after Greenwich Mean Time. But I think that is during summer time so I could be 1 hour wrong here.
What does the route look like?
The official site has an excellent overview of the route. Including something like a height profile. The difference between the lowest and the highest point is about 90 meters. That sounds like pancake flat but the climbs are short but pretty steep. There is even a mountain classification but that is more for the fun of it I guess. Still, the run-in and climbing of the first hill (Grote Berg) after the neutral start usually sheds a huge part of the contenders (or maybe I should call them participants). Add the heat, bad road surface and a lot of wind to spice things up and it starts getting interesting. The route goes over a large part of the island and has some beautiful sceneries. Especially the flamingo’s at Jan Kok are a nice sight.
Deciding factor in the finale is the Juliana Bridge which towers over the city of Willemstad and the Schottegat bay with it’s picturesque early 20th centuryl refinery.
After the bridge the race follows the shore line and finishes after a nasty little chicane in front of the Lions Dive Hotel. This is the place where all the riders stay and go to the beach.
What is the history of this race?
During a vacation in 2001 on Curaçao Leo van Vliet and Erik Breukink rode across the island together and toyed with the idea of having a race there. As riders they had both once been invited to a race on Guadeloupe with all expenses, including a vacation, paid by the race organizers. Why not try something like that on the formerly Dutch island of Curaçao. (Curaçao is part of the Netherlands Antilles, which is a separate country within the Dutch Kingdom).
A cycling reporter of the Dutch newspaper the Telegraaf was involved with the organization of the UCI Road World Cup classification (the predecessor of the UCI ProTour Classification) and he proposed to have the prize ceremony on Curaçao. After a slow start organizers and sponsors on both sides of the Atlantic became enthusiastic and the 2002 prize ceremony would be on Curaçao with a race to be held on the same day. All winners of the individual world cup races were invited as well as the top 3 of the classification. In addition to these top riders a number of Dutch pro riders were invited too. In the end the riders that showed up were: Paolo Bettini, Alex Zülle, Michael Boogerd, Erik Dekker, Stefan van Dijk, Tristan Hoffman, Igor Astarloa, Victor Hugo Pena, Jacob Storm Piil, Davide Bramati and Andrea Tafi. The rest of the field was filled with best local and regional riders for a total of 60 men in the peloton. First winner was Michael Boogerd with Paolo Bettini and Stefan van Dijk completing the first podium. I heard some rumors about this result but I’ll get to that later…
The race has been organized ever since and will know it’s 8th run this year. In later years they opened the participation to all people with a bike. And I really mean all people. In one of the races I rode there was a huge guy in a red kit of at least 150 kg! It is becoming a popular vacation destination for people who want to ride a race with the real pro’s. Curaçao is the only place where that is possible.
Who is this Leo van Vliet guy?
Former Dutch pro rider who rode from 1978-1986. His biggest success was winning the 1983 version of Gent-Wevelgem. Even more legendary is his win in the 7th stage of the 1979 Tour de France. He crossed the line in the middle of the peloton with his hands in the air. He had been part of an escape group that was taken over by the peloton just before the finish. However, the peloton had one more local lap to go and the escape group was in the last lap already. In the chaos that ensued Leo van Vliet proved to have the quickest reflexes. He managed to squeeze himself into the front ranks and was the first to pass the line.
Leo van Vliet is the present director of the Amstel Gold Race classic in Limburg and was appointed coach of the Dutch cycling team in the beginning of this year.
What big names have been present over the years?
A large share of the group who formed the best of the best over the last decade has visited Curaçao to race at least once. The most promising (Dutch) talents were invited too.
2003: Vinokourov, Boogerd, Victor Hugo Pena, Erik Dekker, Servais Knaven, Peter van Petegem, Alejandro Valverde, Jeroen Blijlevens and Bart Brentjens (mountainbike). And others.
2004: Davide Rebellin, Erik Dekker, Leontien van Moorsel (women are welcome to race too!), Oscar Freire, José Guttierez, Thomas Dekker, Max van Heeswijk, Servais Knaven and Bart Brentjens.
2005: Bart Brentjens, Tom Boonen, Erik Dekker, Thomas Dekker, Michael Boogerd, Pieter Weening, Paolo Savoldelli, Sebastian Langeveld, Johan van Summeren
2006: Fränk and Andy Schleck, Erik Dekker, Thomas Dekker, Michael Boogerd, Marc Wauters, Gert Steegmans, George Hincapie, Bart Brentjens, Alejandro Valverde, Jan Boven, Nico Eeckhout, Francesco Moser, Kasper Klostergaard, Michael Barry, Bart Brentjens.
2007: Alberto Contador, Tom Boonen, Fränk and Andy Schleck, Thomas Dekker, Michael Boogerd, Bart Brentjens, Gerald Ciolek, Robert Gesink, Linus Gerdeman
2008: Fränk and Andy Schleck, Jurgen Roelandts, Jurgen van den Broeck, Bart Brentjens, Stijn Devolder, Sebastian Langeveld, Theo Bos, Wouter Weylandt, Greg van Avermaet, Laurens ten Dam, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Bauke Mollema.
Who will ride this year?
This year has the best field ever. Have you seen the Tour de France this year? Most of the riders that made the TdF the spectacle that is was this year are present. I present to you:
Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Fränk Schleck, Mark Cavendish, Thor Hushovd, Kenny van Hummel. The field is completed by no less than Edvald Boasson Hagen, Lars Boom, Karsten Kroon, Gabriel Rasch, Koos Moerenhout, Jakob Fuglsang, Johnny Hoogerland and Jesus Hernandez. (That’s quite a haul of VDS pointage I’d say!).
So who or what decides the winner in this race?
That’s a good question. I know rule number one is that a pro should always win. It would be rather embarrassing otherwise. This doesn’t mean other riders can’t join the front group or finish in front of pro riders. It’s just that at least the first 3 should be pro’s. There are prizes for the best local rider so they try to stay in front too. I heard rumours that in the first edition some riders from the national selections of both Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago formed a breakaway that stayed away till the finish. The organization was quick to set them back about 5 places to make sure the pro’s could claim the podium.
You’d think the elite riders wouldn’t have any troubles getting rid of other riders but it appears to be harder than it looks. They are fatigued by a long season, they are not accustomed to the heat and the muscles can be weakened after a week of eating French fries and drinking beer on the beach. I’ve heard that on occasion the pro riders cramped on the last climb onto the Juliana bridge. It was for this reason Boonen called it the hardest race of the year.
Anyhow, its clear that the podium should be pro riders. As it is a promo-race you’d expect the podium to be decided before the race. If you look at the list of winners this seems to be true at first sight. Often the rider with the biggest name bagged the win. The parcours favours sprinters or attackers so you would not expect Contador or Andy Schleck to win here. On the other hand, there was a lot of attention in 2006 for the last race Erik Dekker would ride in his career. Complete with a tv-team from Holland. So I was surprised he did not win there. He was in a three-man breakaway that made it to the finish.
2002 1: Boogerd 2: Bettini 3: van Dijk
2003 1: van Petegem 2: Valverde 3: Boogerd
2004 1: Freire 2: van Heeswijk 3: Rebellin
2005 1: Boonen 2: Savoldelli 3: Weening
2006 1: Valverde 2: Fränk Schleck 3: Erik Dekker (his last year) (3 men break)
2007 1: Contador 2: Thomas Dekker 3: Fränk Schleck
2008 1: Andy Schleck 2: Devolder 3: Theo Bos (nr 1 & 2 with 11 sec lead)
Who will win this year then?
If they ride to win it, the battle will probably be between Cavendish and Hushovd. However, the Thursday before the race there will be a real short circuit criterium of about an hour. It is possible the sprinters will get their chance there and another rider gets to win the real thing. Out of seniority Fränk Schleck could be a candidate then. Contador and Andy both won the thing once already and this could be a way to thank Fränk for his loyalty to the race over the last years. On the other hand, there are plenty of new kids on the block that could have a go: Fuglsang, Boom, Hoogerland and Boasson Hagen would form a very nice breakaway I’d say!
Any way to follow the race live?
Yeah, the race website is a giving updates of the race while it proceeds. Last year they had a tracking and tracing system where you could track the pro riders thanks to the chips they wore in their back pockets. Hopefully they’ll do the same this year. For the Dutch speakers there is live commentary on Radio Paradise FM (www.paradisefm.an). If one of the Dutch PdC incrowd makes it to the live thread this should give you all the information you need.
What’s it like to ride this race?
It’s great fun to ride in a race with a lot of media coverage (pictures being taken of the pro’s and tropical podium girls), a helicopter overhead to film your exploits, a lot of fans along the roads etc. etc. It is easy to ride to the front of the peloton and ride alongside the guys you normally watch on TV. And when you finish racing you can dive into the deep blue sea to cool off and join the beach party afterwards. Cycling, sun and Venezuelan Polar Beer! What more to wish for during a vacation?
Any great deeds by Lopex in this illustrious race?
Not really I’m afraid… As I said I rode this thing twice. The first time was in 2006. I started training on the bike somewhat only five months prior to the race and the month before some bad alpaca meat combined with some height sickness symptoms during a vacation in Peru really wrecked the little form I had. My big goal for the race was to make it in time to the Juliana bridge. This is normally off limit to cyclists. The Amstel Race Curaçao is the only occasion you can cross the bridge by bike. They close it again some time after the first riders of the race pass it.
The start of the race was very scary. It was neutralised but slalomed through the streets of Willemstad which are not in a great shape. The road was packed with cyclists so all you could do was hope you wouldn’t hit the holes in the road. Somebody crashed right behind me and right after that the guy in front of me wrecked his front wheel on the pavement in a corner. I was very happy when we hit the broader roads and the race got underway. All the pro’s were in front and it was very easy to draft along. Shortly before the first climb on the menu it started raining. And when it rains on Curaçao it really pours. And the roads immediately get very slippery. You can feel your back wheel slip with every stroke of your pedal. The pro’s eventually decided to stop their bikes to protect their limbs. Just like other local guys I just went on. On the descent of the Grote Berg the guy right in front of me slipped but I managed to stay up. Sadly, the race organisation stopped the race and made us wait for those spoiled pro’s. I had some trouble with the click system of my pedal so I did not pay enough attention to staying in front. To the surprise of Erik Dekker rain showers can be very local on Curaçao so the race could resume quickly. When we got going again the pro’s in front hurried away. I got stuck behind too many stragglers so that was the last I saw of them. Then I noticed another rider who had some ground to regain and I got in his wheel. This older dude was quite a good rider. Francesco Moser the name. Quickly I was hanging on for dear life. He dived through very small holes between riders in front of us and I was getting worried about blowing up so I decided to let him go. Afterwards I learned it is better to go all out and burn up than to be too cautious but that didn’t help me then. I finished the race in a group that came in 40-60 or something. We made it in time to the bridge, that was the good part of the day. I shot out of my pedal in the finale so I couldn’t sprint for the line. I ended up behind a number of guys I hadn’t seen in front of the group at all. Still, I had a great time.
The second time I was in better shape. Not as good as a few months earlier but the birth of my second son did get in the way of training, energy and sleep. Well worth it of course but not an ideal preparation. Still I managed myself in front of the race pretty good in the first 10k. I was right behind the pro’s when we climbed the Julianabridge for the first time. Alas, in the descent I hit a rock on the road and my race was over. I had to change the tube myself and there was nobody to bring me back to the front of the race. Cadel Evans eat your heart out! I considered quitting but decided to go on alone with the goal of finishing the race. I managed to catch some stragglers and jumped from group to group. Eventually I finished with the first 100! But again, I had a good time. Big disappointment but finishing the race was also fulfilling.
What if I want more?
What? It’s not enough for you? Well, you can go visit the good people of the Daily Peloton for their preview. But maybe you should go book your ticket for next year’s edition!