Amstel Gold Race
In the mid-sixties, the Netherlands had some twenty professional rhythms and also the Tour of Limburg and South Holland, but no competition had the appearance of a classic. Cycling enthusiasts and organizers watched Flanders with a lot of fun every week. Herman Krott, the discoverer of Peter Post and Gerrie Knetemann and chef d'equipe of the Amstel cycling team, was one of those people. He wanted to organize a big city-to-city race, a cycling race with allure that should eventually become a classic.
A sponsor had quickly found the Amsterdammer and also an appealing route: Amsterdam-Maastricht, but a race of 350 kilometers was a bit too much of a good thing. The idea of cycling from Amsterdam to Rotterdam was also fired because the police did not allow the peloton to ride over the Moerdijk Bridge. Eventually the first edition - on Queen's Day 1966 - it was decided to drive from Breda to Meerssen, a village in the hills of Limburg.
A lot went wrong with the first Amstel Gold Race, which was awarded the 'classic hors category' in 1991. Just before the start the national police came to tell us that due to the village squares closed off by Queen's Day parties and road works, various diversions had been placed in the course. It made the race about forty kilometers longer. Incidentally, five-time Tour winner Jacques Anquetil did not care. He finally closed his brakes well before the finish and got off: his contract said he had to drive 260 kilometers, not 302. Another favorite, the Frenchman Jean Stablinski, won the first episode.
Already in 1973 the most legendary Amstel Gold Race was held. Immediately after departure from the new starting place in Heerlen, the peloton was hit by strong winds, rain, snow and hail. The temperature was around freezing and it was actually irresponsible to cycle, but no one dared to make the decision to cancel the race. Even winner Eddy Merckx, who, as usual, had driven away from the rest without breaking away, was barely moved forward by the cold. His manager was able to keep up with him at the end of the day. Merckx begged for food, but just before the finish there was only hot tea in stock. The Cannibal did not drink it, but poured it into his shoes, over his ice-cold feet.
From the late 1970s, the Dutch ruled in their own country for a decade. Of the twelve editions that took place between 1977 and 1988, a countryman triumphed ten times, interrupted by victories by Phil Anderson and Bernard Hinault. During the Frenchman's victory in 1981, the peloton did not see a hand for the entire day due to the thick fog. In a unique but beautiful mass sprint in South Limburg, Hinault entered the second hundred meters for the second time.
That year no Dutchmen finished among the first three, a rarity in those years. In 1977 even the entire stage was red-white-blue with Hennie Kuiper, Gerrie Knetemann and winner Jan Raas. It was the first Zeeland victory that would win five in six years. The race was therefore called the Amstel Gold Raas for a while. There was a breath of fresh air in 1978, however. Clearly visible to all television viewers, the escaped Jan Raas drove long into the slipstream of the engine of AVRO's Sports Panorama. The number two Francesco Moser was justifiably furious. "I'll never come here again," he shouted.
For over twenty years, foreigners have been in charge in the Limburg hills, with victories by Michael Boogerd (1999) and Erik Dekker (2001) as exceptions. Both beat Lance Armstrong, who was later withdrawn from the results, in a sprint-à-deux.
Since the last Dutch victory it is fortunately possible for amateurs and enthusiasts to cycle the classic one day before the pros. To feel the special character of the Amstel Gold Race: the endless turning and turning up hill, down hill, over the narrow roads in Limburg. To see how all the juice is squeezed from the legs in 700 meters on the Keutenberg, which is called the steepest mountain in the Netherlands with a maximum increase of 22%. The Cauberg is also not for the cat, because the final climb of the race is almost one and a half kilometers long, but the real calf bite is the Eyserbosweg, which rises pleasantly the first six hundred meters from the picturesque Eys, but suddenly turns into a forest kink knows of more than 18%. "I don't know of another climb that is so debilitating," said Michael Boogerd. But that comment from the most successful Dutch cyclist in recent years does not scare the real enthusiast: the 12,000 available starting places (60, 100, 125, 150, 200 or 250 km) are now just over half a year via the organization's website hour sold out. Logical, because the only Dutch classic, he must have driven a little rider, right?