Going for gold at Amstel

Ben Healy is back for revenge at the Dutch classic. Veronica Ewers returns to racing for EF Education-Cannondale.

April 11, 2024

On Sunday, the WorldTour heads to the Netherlands for the Amstel Gold Race.

Richard Carapaz, Owain Doull, Ben Healy, Mikkel Honoré, Lukas Nerurkar, James Shaw, and Marijn van den Berg will race the Dutch classic for EF Education-EasyPost.

Letizia Borghesi, Clara Emond, Veronica Ewers, Magdeleine Vallieres, Nina Kessler, and Clara Koppenburg will ride for EF Education-Cannondale.

The races start in Maastricht, a pretty, university city on the banks of the Meuse river, and head into the hills of South Limburg, which are blanketed by daffodils, magnolias, and apple blossoms in spring. Winding through red-brick towns, past traffic furniture, and into fields on perfect pavement, the race courses are as picturesque as they are violent. Up, down, this way and that—none of the climbs in the Amstel Gold Race is more than a few kilometers long, but most are very steep and they come one after the other. The men do 33 in their 255.2-kilometer race, while the women climb 17 during the 157.4-km Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition.

“It is just constant left and right, climbing and descending,” says Ben Healy, who finished second last year and wants to go one better this time. “The race is just relentless all day, even if there might not be one climb that stands out.”

Unless you’re Dutch, that is. Marijn van den Berg knows the climbs in the Amstel Gold Race like the back of his hand. Marijn was born five meters below sea level. Most of his country is as flat as Ben’s back when he ducks into his aero tuck. Growing up in the Netherlands, Limburg was the place to go for weekend training-camps and the hardest junior races. Hills like the Keutenberg, Eyserbosweg, and Cauberg are national icons in the Netherlands, thanks to the Amstel Gold Race, which was founded in 1966 to give the Netherlands a race to compete with the older Belgian classics. It might not be a monument, but it is certainly the most important race in the cycling-mad Netherlands.

“The whole country knows the Amstel Gold Race,” says our Dutch rider Nina Kessler. “When people hear that you are a cyclist, they will ask you, so do you do the Tour de France or Amstel Gold Race? Then, you can say, yep I do the Amstel Gold Race! It almost feels like the whole country comes to the south of the Netherlands that weekend. It is crazy. Dutch people are normally down to earth, but Amstel is a party. Everybody knows the race. Everybody is watching the race. In Belgium, they have Flanders, and we have the Amstel Gold Race.”

After his huge performance at Brabanste Pijl on Wednesday, where he was caught inside the final kilometer, and his win at the Région Pays de la Loire Tour earlier this month, Marijn is excited to make his debut in his country’s classic.

“I know all of the climbs and all of the roads,” Marijn says. “That is going to make the race really special. Most of them are short, steep, and they come one after the other. They hurt quite a lot if you go fast.”

“We are really good at finding the roads to make hard races,” Nina says. “I will do training camps in the south of the Netherlands and it is just so beautiful to ride around. The nature is really nice, but racing is something else. You have the feeling that you are doing a crit with hills. There is always something going on. Either you have left turns, right corners, small roads, wide roads and then of course the hills, which are short and punchy. You have to be a proper cyclist to do a good race here. It is not a typical climbers’ race because it is so explosive all of the time and that makes it pretty cool and also hard to predict how the race will go.”

Marijn van den Berg knows his dream scenario. He might not be a household name in his home country yet, but one big ride on Sunday could change that forever. With him and Ben, plus Richard Carapaz, on the start line, our squad will have three very strong riders in the game at Amstel. The race will be a matter of defending those three, so they can do their thing at the end.

“I don’t think it is up to us to make the race from the start and decide how the race is ridden until the finale,” Ben says. “Hopefully, it will be a reduced group with me and Richard and Marijn. If he is in contention, Marijn can take that sit-back-and-wait-for-the-sprint role, so Richie and I can be aggressive.”

Marijn knows on Sunday it will be important to be patient.

“It’s going to be a hard race, but I think that’s perfect for Ben,” Marijn says. “I want to be there if it comes back, so we could sprint with a smaller group, but Amstel is a really hard race to predict. I don’t know what to expect because it is my first time. A lot can happen here. On the climbs, it will be key not to go all out the first time up. Everyone in the peloton can do a few hard efforts on the climbs, but we’re doing almost 260 kilometers. When you see it on TV, it is always super busy and everybody is super hyped and excited so I am looking forward to seeing how that will be.”

Veronica Ewers is too. She is going to make her return to racing at Amstel after a tough spring. It will be a hard start for her, but she knows she will be encouraged by the Dutch fans.

“What I always find so special in this race is that once we hit the final circuits, all of the bergs are just covered in people cheering, especially on the Cauberg, the key climb near the finish,” Veronica says. “That just makes it really special. I am a bit anxious. I have not raced since mid-February so it is kind of like starting out on my season again. I wasn’t feeling too great after Valenciana, just mentally was not where I wanted to be, but I have reflected on that and am trying to give myself a bit of grace and I am really excited to get back into racing and be a part of the team. The beauty of the team at the moment is that we are not necessarily favorites to win and that gives us the privilege of being aggressive. We can shoot our shots and take risks and just give it everything we can.”

Expect to see pink jerseys flying off the front of the peloton Sunday. EF Pro Cycling is ready to set off some fireworks in the hills of Zuid-Limburg.

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