World Champion, Michal Kwiatkowski – can he win at Amstel Gold in Rainbow Colours on Sunday? Image credit to Michal Kwiatkowski
Episode 2 of the Spring classics kicks off this Sunday in the form of the Dutch Classic, the Amstel Gold.
We were all witnesses to the incredible scenes of Episode 1. At the start of the pro-season with La Primavera – the Milan-Sanremo. The Italian Classic was won by John ‘DEGE’ Degenkolb. Which he nicely wrapped up in when DEGE triumphed with the Paris-Roubaix bookend to his Classics campaign.
The sequel to the classics now moves away from the Italian, French and Belgium borders and transfers to the Dutch frontiers, in the Ardennes region. The Amstel Gold (AG) is first, followed by Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, and the most famous one, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, on Sunday 26 April.
The AG differs from it’s flatter cousins in early in the month, with 34 climbs. With the infamous Cauberg thrown at riders 4 times. Beyond the climbing, you’ll need to be more than an ibex. There’s 1.8KM left to race after the climb, so you’ll either need the legs to pedal away or a team that will shelter you till you take charge. Here’s a look at two who know this course well.
When: This Sunday, 19 April
Winter will have to wait for Phil Gil
The race has the potential of having the two Golden Boys pitt their wits and wheels against each other this weekend. We look at the two popular contenders: Michal Kwiatkowski, and Philippe Gilbert. The latter is no stranger to this race, nor it’s infamous Cauberg climb. Not only has ‘Phil-Gil’ won the AG three times before, including in 2014, but he is a former World Champion who won the Rainbow Colours on this very same climb. On paper and on the road, everyone will be watching this Belgian stylist make his move.
Phil Gil stays on the big ring for the Cauberg – “The burning in his thighs was so intense that Belgium’s winter isn’t expected until February.” – Nate
I think we need to see this again, under the microscope and in fine detail – sorry I couldn’t get this animated gif to work here, so you’ll have to follow the link here.
Big Rings = Big Wins
Last year’s AG was remembered for the colourful drama that unfolded on a cool day in April. First there was the road furniture; followed by Tony Martin’s tumble into the hedges; which in turn gave way to Thomas Voeckler showing the motor crews, and everyone else for that matter, how to expertly navigate sweeping corner descents.
The action turned to the final climb of the Cauberg. The peloton was no stranger to this monster. At 1.5km long, it has an average gradient of 4.5%, with a heart-toppling maximum of 12%. Not as hard as your GT mountain range, but several repeats later, even the hardiest of Baroudeurs will want to crawl to side and weep.
Thanks to Cosmo Catalano, we don’t have to. Instead we can admire how it all unfolded here:
There’s been two animated gifs I’ve been trying my darndest to put up here, but fails to One is of Phil-Gil climbing the to World Champ glory, and the other is of Michal ‘Magic Mike‘ Kwiatkowski doing over 200 watts on average over the duration of the 6 hours of the world World Champs. Thanks to our friend across the pond, Nate has kindly kept his gif to remind us of Mike’s panache here.
Oh, did I forget to mention in the final 3 minutes when he tears away, Mike does 500 watts, and tops it to a max of 700. For those of you who know your watts, the numbers speak for themselves. For those of us not so familiar, this is a BIG number, and ultimately, Michal’s result speaks for himself – he is the reigning world champion.
This is what chasing rainbow looks like:
The Likely Lads
Michael Matthews is leading the giants at Orica Greenedge and will want to prove his leadership. Despite only riding 4 races in 2015, Matthews has won or been on the podium for each one. He certainly chooses his battles well. With a win at a stage at Paris-Nice and most memorably 3rd at Milan-Sanremo, he also has a great fighting team, and his personal accomplishments this year prove he has the punch for climbing hard.
Teammate and fellow Aussie, Simon Gerrans demonstrated his art in last year’s AG, where he was strong enough to follow Phil Gil all the way up the Cauberg, only to fade with other specialists. With recovery still in it’s early days, this year’s AG may prove a race too far, for now. We may see the Aussie National Champ play right hand man for Matthews.
Daniel Martin is a favourite rider in our club. You’d be forgiven to think Dan’s only a climber; he’s silenced many judges when it comes to a sprint after a climb, and he could pull it off here. Plus, this is the right time of year for him to warm up before the summer GT’s arrive, where he’ll need to shift up a gear in the mountains.
When most riders are taking a break from the brutal cobbles of the earlier Classics, who better than Greg Van Avermaet to show up for a race. The brave Belgian who’s been close to winning every major race this season and the last, will be wanting to prove himself one more time. As we’ve seen he can do it all: breakaway; keep the break; climb; cobbles and finish, but can he match the others on Sunday?
Local lad, Tom Dumoulin will be a favourite in the Netherlands. Last year he attacked early knowing he doesn’t have the punch to swing it from the others like Phil Gil or the Spanish contingent. As a diesel engine he may choose to try an early escape again this year. If he lurks cunningly within a break he could keep some of that Gold at home. Other likely lads include Tom-Jelte Slagter, Wout Poels, Bauke Mollema and Wilco Kelderman.
Phil Gil isn’t the only one with experience here. There’s Joaquim Rodriguez and his fellow countryman, Alejandro Valverde. They too can give a kick, but are often left wanting in these punchy climbs, and instead favour the big mountains. Yet, like those around them, will be keen to warm up their engines and steal a Classics win!
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