Our official Rapido Guide to the exhilarating Ardennes classics begins with the infamous Amstel Gold, a race which has often churned up a surprise thanks to a testing course and highly tactical finale. This year’s edition is a familiar affair, likely to be decided by the strongest of riders on the Cauberg, where an elite group is often seen trading punches as they haul themselves to the top. Those first over the Cauberg for the final time will then have 1.8km separating them from the line, a stressful stretch of tarmac as riders calculate which wheels to follow and when to launch their move for the victory. Overall, 2016’s Amstel Gold is 248.7km long and packs in a staggering 34 recognised climbs to help decide who deserves the title of champion.
Michael Matthews has ridden incredibly strongly so far this season and we are not even into summer yet, so his form is only expected to get better still. The Australian rider should cope well with these short climbs throughout the race and will utilise a strong Orica-GreenEDGE team to keep all moves on a tight leash, hoping to power up the Cauberg on the final ascent in pursuit of victory. His performance at 2015’s World Road Race Championships showcased his talents on a demanding course like this and he could emerge as the man to beat during the final 1.8km run into the finish.
Michal Kwiatkowski is the defending champion here and will hope to stay in contention during the final decisive ascent of the Cauberg. He has already won E3 this year, but then looked less impressive at Ronde van Vlaanderen, though Amstel Gold is a far bigger target for him in 2016 and should hope to rise to the occasion here.
Julian Alaphilippe experienced a breakthrough season at these Ardennes races last year and will look to build upon that in 2016 by winning one. Though he has recently battled illness, Alaphilippe appears to be riding himself into ideal condition ahead of these races which he has performed so well at previously. He is a great threat to many, as he has the potential to drop others on the Cauberg, attack solo or even win a reduced sprint finish; a risky man who cannot be afforded too much space.
Other riders who may emerge as surprise challengers if they make it into the race winning move on the day include Simon Gerrans, Tony Gallopin and Ben Swift.
1st Michael Matthews 2nd Julian Alaphilippe 3rd Michal Kwiatkowski