• Steve Thomas shares his experience of the Amstel Gold Sportive (Steve Thomas)Source: Steve Thomas
The Amstel Gold is perhaps the most under-estimated classic of spring, yet it’s one of the toughest there is – and that goes for the sportive version too, which happens the day before the pro race.
Steve Thomas

Cycling Central
13 Apr 2017 - 9:43 AM 

The northern Europe spring can often be harsh and grim, which is just what makes the classics as tough and legendary as they are. On any given race day, you can expect to experience all four seasons in one day, even within an hour.

Heavy winds and thrashing rain can turn to snow and then magically back to sunshine within the space of a banana’s consumption. On our chosen weekend the great clog gods above had given their blessing, and it was a shimmering summerlike 23 degrees Celsius.

True to form the daffodils were in full bloom, contrasting so boldly with the greens and browns of the après winter fields. Leaves were just returning to the trees, and the skies were a breezy blue and all fluffed to perfection with restful clouds – positively idyllic, unexpected but welcomed.

For a couple of days prior, we rode the flatter roads of neighbouring Belgium which was a great jolt to my long since faded memories or riding and racing there.

Cycle-paths; all narrow, twisted and demanding of attention were the order of the prelude, sharpening up any fading bike handling skills that drifted away on the wider and distant roads in the months before.

This Belgian border region blends almost seamlessly into Limburg, making a country double a potential day's ride. This is also a great base for a classic cycling pilgrimage of as many historic race routes as you like. 

There are so many of these twisted and hilly roads here, and you could quite easily ride 150km upwards without ever being more than 20 or so kilometres from Maastricht, where the Amstel Gold race starts.

The grey and slithering maze of roads is what makes the Amstel Gold race so tough. The riding is railed, curvaceous, is rarely flat and has plenty of road furniture. 

Many of the roads are also exposed in places, meaning the winds that sculpted the jawbones of so many Dutch champions will lash at you at their mercy. The route map for the race and the sportive is similar to a bike courier's Strava log for the year.

It’s an absolute spaghetti-like mesh of ins, outs and around-abouts – often taking in the same climbs and sectors in opposite directions within less than half an hour or so.

Such conditions make for superb but very intense riding, and in a pro race situation, also combine to make this great race something of a free-for-all, or rather a true mano a mano fight. Teamwork here is limited by the ever-changing conditions and relentless intensity.

This tends to leave only the strongest individuals left in the hunt for glory on the infamous curtain dropping slopes of the Cauberg, the most famous “mountain” in all of the Netherlands.

Looking down through the grand list of victors in this classic race and there is not a single one that would raise an eyebrow – other than in absolute respect. It’s a fantastic race to watch, highly unpredictable, and you can get to see it numerous times by bike.

Riding the sportive event on the day before gives an added appreciation of the historic battles fought out beneath your wheels. The riding is quintessentially different, yet enchanting, defying expectations with every berg that slowly but surely melts beneath you.

Some 18,000 official (and many unregistered) riders line up for the sportive, making for the biggest peloton ever on such skinny roads, a true site to behold.