The Amstel Gold was on Sunday and another Belgian won. Amstel is the Netherlands biggest pro bike race and begins what’s called the Ardennes classics. These series of spring races, named for the Ardennes mountains and forests that make up northern Belgium, France, and Luxembourg, include the monument Liege-Bastogne-Liege and also Fleche Wallone (coming up in a few weeks)
Ridiculously narrow roads. Road furniture that comes out of nowhere. Steep, punchy climbs and a crazy uphill finish. That’s Amstel Gold. The beauty of these spring classics (Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix + a host of smaller races) is that they all have their own quality and character and they generally favor different kinds of riders. Every few generations, we may see a Fabian Cancellara that can compete in all of them but for the most part San Remo favors the sprinters, Flanders takes a strongman able to burst over short climbs, Paris-Roubaix is sheer power and guts, and Amstel Gold takes an incredible all-arounder with a massive uphill sprint.
In this year’s edition, the rider with the number one on his back as defending champion, Philippe Gilbert, chased down Andy Schleck and powered his way up the finishing climb to reassert himself as a man for the classics. Gilbert is from the French speaking region of Belgium, but hey he’s Belgian, and the Flemish have adopted him as one of their own.
So just in case you’re counting this spring, that’s FOUR BELGIANS that have won the past FIVE classics/semi-classics: Tom Boonen at Ghent-Wevelgem, Nick Nuyens at Flanders, Johan van Summeren at Paris-Roubaix, Philippe Gilbert at Brabantse Pijl, and again Gilbert at Amstel Gold. Belgium is smaller than Indiana and they’re kicking the crap out of the rest of the world in the toughest races on the planet. The legendary toughness of Belgian bike racers is well-earned.
Almost makes me want to go train for 4 hours in the freezing rain. Almost.