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Amstel Gold Race: Slight Route Changes, Same Old Excitement

Amstel_mediumBy sheer number of ascents, Sunday's Amstel Gold is the reigning world champion of uphill classic fun. This year's event features the standard 31 climbs, several of which are worth getting to know -- which you can do, in great numerical and photographic detail, at AGR's wonderful website. Or by riding Saturday's cyclosportive (next time...). But if that's too much work, here's the bottom line:

There are 31 hills. So, not a bunch sprinters' race.

Pretty easy to remember. Several of the climbs resemble paved versions of what you can find in the Vlaamse Ardennen, under 1km and relatively steep, but Amstel Gold separates itself from recent races with the longer stuff, and with a cluster of climbs over the last 25km that can be counted on to decide the race.

As for the longer stuff, here are some doozies:

  • Camerig: 4300 meters, 3.8%
  • Bergseweg: 2700 meters, 3.3%
  • Drielandenpunt: 3700 meters, 3.8%
  • Eperheide: 2300 meters, 4.5%
  • Eyserweg: 2200 meters, 4.3% scratched
  • Loorberg: 1500 meters, 5.5%
  • Schweibergerweg: 2900 meters, 3.9%
  • Sibbergrubbe: 2100 meters, 4.1%
  • Vijlenerbos: 1800 meters, 5.1%

Not much like that in Flanders. Of course, the average gradients aren't going to kill any of these guys, and only the Loorberg appears in the last 75km. But they take their toll, along with the endless undulations and incredibly narrow roads that force riders to stop and start, battle for position, and constantly drain their energy reserves before the stunning finale:

The Kruisberg (km 236): 800 meters at 7.5%, but most of the 60 meter rise is in the last 600 meters, making it more like a short but 10% climb.

The Eyserbosweg (km 238): Seriously hard stuff, 1100 meters averaging over 8%. Climbbybike says the middle portion touches 21% max, but I would appreciate confirmation from one of you guys on that. There's a youtube video by some schlep with a helmet cam (Ed?) and it doesn't look like 21%. No matter though, it's enough to heat up the race. Michele Bartoli said the Eyserbosweg is where the race takes shape, and having won in 2002, he should know.

The Fromberg (km 241): 1600 meters at 4%. But it's wide-open, presumably subject to some winds. Not an obvious place to decide the race, but you can't rule anything out in this slugfest.

The Keutenberg (km 246): Seems like there's a consensus that this is the hardest climb of the race. Not only does it come in rapid-fire succession, but its 66 meter rise over 700 meters (9.4%) actually undersells the severity: most of that rise comes in about 400 meters, a 15% average with a max of 20%. That's gotta leave a mark.

The Cauberg (km 258): Once again, the race finishes atop its signature slope. 1200 meters at 5.8%, but there's an early 300 meter wall at some 12% to really put on the hurt.

Compared to last year, there's little change. An early climb of the Eyserbosweg takes the place of the Eyserweg, undergoing some late repairs. The km markers differ a bit here and there, either because people have arbitrarily changed the measurements or because of an odd new turn here or there. Ultimately, the race will be won almost anywhere, probably on the late side, just as likely between climbs on the wind-swept plateaus as on the slopes themselves. One thing I noticed in the similarly low hills of the Vlaamse Ardennen: if it's a windy day, the climbs are often a brief respite from getting blown around. So picture how you feel about nailing the Keutenberg, only to get blasted with a gust of wind at the top, before you can recover. As you can imagine, that's prime attacking territory. So tune in and don't run out for coffee between climbs. At any time in the late stages, anything can happen.

A request! Since we have a quorum of Dutch readers as well as people who wish they were Dutch, or at least people who've ridden in Limburg, feel free to use the comments to post your pictures of the course. This is as scenic a race as you'll get outside Italy.