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Photo: Trek Factory Racing




14.08.2015 @ 14:45 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Jos van Emden took the overall lead but Wilco Kelderman, Greg Van Avermaet, Philippe Gilbert and Lars Boom stand out as the GC winners after the opening time trial of the race. With Kelderman in pole position, the scene is set for some aggressive racing in the three consecutive classics that end the race, starting with tomorrow’s small version of the Amstel Gold Race.


The course

After a few nervous days and a time trial, it is time for the classics riders to start to take back the time that they have lost in the race against the clock. They will get their first chance in stage 5 which is like a mini Amstel Gold Race. Every year the race hosts a small version of the Dutch classic in the Limburg province and this year it will be no different. Last year the Amstel stage was held on the final day but this year the progression in the difficulty is more natural as the stage comes as the first test in the hills. This year’s stage is very similar to the one that featured one year ago and includes no less than 23 climbs. However, history proves that the terrain is rarely hard enough to create any differences between the best riders.


Like last year, the 179.6km stage starts in the Belgian city of Riemst and finishes in the Dutch city of Sitaard-Geelen in the heart of the Limburg province. The stage is almost identical to the one that was used in 2014 as the only change is the omission of a flat part of the finishing circuit which has been shortened slightly. It includes a total of 18 climbs and as many of them feature multiple times, the total number of ascents is no less than 23. The start of the stage is the easiest as the riders first do a lap of a circuit around Riemst that only includes the Muizenberg (650m, 6.6%). The first Primus sprint comes already after 13.3km of racing.


From there, the riders travel in a westerly direction and go up the Cote Halembaye (1100m, 6.6%) just before they cross the border after 34.2km of racing. That marks the start of the climbing hostilities as the riders now tackle the Heiweg (1400m, 4.0%), Bergenhuizen (500m, 8.0%), Hoogcruts (700m, 5.0%), Loorberg (1400m, 5.3%), Camerig (1300m, 5.4%), Schuttebergsweg (1200m, 5.3%), Mamelisserweg (600m, 5.8%), Gulperberg (450m, 9.3%), Wittemerweg (800m, 4.9%), Eyserbosweg (1050m, 8.2%), Oude Huls (600m, 7.5%), Schanternelsweg (1000m, 6.0%) and Fromberg (1100m, 5.9%) in quick succession with very little room for recovery in between. Many of those climbs are well-known by most of the riders from the Amstel Gold Race where especially the Eyserbosweg stands out as one of the hardest challenges. However, it comes a bit too early to make a big difference in this stage. Along the way, the riders will have turned to the north and will now be heading towards the finish in Sittard-Geelen.


After the Fromberg, there is a short, flatter section that precedes the finale which kicks off with the Bergstraat (1000m, 7.0%) with 54.3km to go. Just after the top, the riders reach the finishing circuit and moments later they tackle the Windraak (700m, 4.5%) before they cross the finish line for the first time.


The final part of the stage is made up of two laps of a 22.4km finishing circuit that includes six climbs in quick succession. The Kollenberg (400m, 5.0%) comes 19.8km from the finish and there is unnamed ascent (300m, 6.5%) 2.8km further up the road. With 15.9km to go, the riders tackle the Sittarderweg (800m, 4.0%) while the Schatsberg (800m, 5.0%) comes 14.2km from the finish. There’s another unnamed climb (350m, 8.0%) 8.7km from the line while the Windraak is the final challenge with just 4.4km to go. The final Primus sprint comes just 4km from the finish while golden kilometre starts with 35.6km when the riders hit the Schatsberg on the first lap.


After the Windraak, there is a short descent and then the final part of the stage is flat. It’s pretty technical as the riders do four turns between the 2.1km and 1.5km to go marks. Then a straight road leads to the final left-hand turn that comes just 400m from the line. Compared to last year, the circuit is a bit shorter as a flat part in the beginning has been removed but the finale and the main challenges are unchanged.


Sittard-Geelen is the only city to have hosted a stage finish in every edition of the race. In 2005, Simone Cadamuro won a bunch sprint while Manuel Quinziato narrowly held off the sprinters one year later when Cadamuro had to settle for second. In 2007, Sebastien Rosseler took a time trial win and Jose Ivan Gutierrez won the opening prologue in 2008. In 2009, Lars Bak held off a select group after a hard day in the Limburg province while Jack Bobridge was the strongest from a breakaway in 2010. In 2011, Edvald Boasson Hagen won a bunch sprint while Orica-GreenEDGE won the only team time trial in the history of the race in 2012. In 2013, the city hosted the time trial which was won by Sylvain Chavanel. Last year Guillaume Van Keirsbulck emerged as the strongest from a breakaway as he rode away for a solo victory. The GC riders tested each other in the finale but it was a 30-rider group that sprinted for 11th, with Greg Van Avermaet crossing the line first from the main group.






The weather

It’s summer in the Netherlands but a change of weather is scheduled after today’s brutally hot stage. Already tonight the first rain will fall and more rain is forecasted on Friday morning. Luckily it should be dry by the time the riders get to the start but there’s a 25% risk of more rain in the finale. It’s pretty certain that there will be a thunderstorm in the early evening and if it arrives earlier than planned, it could be a very wet finale. The maximum temperature will be 26 degrees.


There will be a light wind from a southerly direction which means that the riders will mainly have a crosswind in the first part of the stage until they turn into a tailwind when they get to the hardest section. The wind will be blowing from the back until they get to the finishing circuit where there will be a headwind in the first part and a tailwind in the second part. There will be a crosswind on the Windraak climb and then a tailwind or a cross-tailwind in the final part of the stage.


The favourites

Jos van Emden confirmed how much progress he has made in the time trials by beating the big favourites Adriano Malori and Matthias Brändle in the TT. To make it a perfect day for LottoNL-Jumbo, Wilco Kelderman was the best of the GC riders and all the talk about his back problems must now have been put firmly to rest. After today’s stage, the Dutchman finds himself in a great position to go for the biggest stage race win of his career.


However, other riders are within striking distance. Most notably, the two BMC captains Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert both had great rides to finish in the top and stay within 13 seconds of Kelderman in the GC. With three classics stages and lots of bonus seconds coming up, the two Belgians find themselves in a great position as we go into the final part of the stage.


The final big winner was Lars Boom who did his best Eneco time trial for years and now looms as a possible winner of the race. His big challenge will be to survive the hard stage in the Ardennes on Saturday and he needs to be climbing a lot better than he was in the Tour of Denmark if he wants to win the race. Fabio Felline also looms as a big threat as the Italian is just 18 seconds behind Kelderman and with his fast sprint, he can potentially pick up lots of bonus seconds.


The big losers were the Etixx-QuickStep pair of Julian Alaphilippe and Niki Terpstra, with the latter being ruled out due to a series of bad luck. Furthermore, Andriy Grivko and Alexey Lutsenko lost more time than expected and Boom now stands out as the clear leader of the strong Astana team.


However, for the moment it is van Emden who holds the pole position and it won’t be impossible for him to defend the lead in tomorrow’s stage. There is no doubt that the Ardennes stage is too hard for him but tomorrow’s stage is not overly difficult. It may be billed as a mini version of the Amstel Gold Race but it is a lot easier than the Dutch classic. The stage offers lots of climbs but the hardest ones come pretty far from the finish. The ascents on the finishing circuit are pretty easy and many sprinters will be able to survive them. Last year’s stage proved that it was hard for the GC riders to make a difference and sprinters like Borut Bozic, Boy van Poppel, Enrique Sanz and Maximilano Richeze were able to hang onto the group that sprinted for 11th behind the successful breakaway. Van Emden lost five minutes but he had been working hard for his teammates on a day when the Belkin were riding pretty much on the front.


Tomorrow’s stage is almost identical to last year’s final stage so most of the riders know it well and know how hard it is. The big change is the fact that it comes much earlier in the race at a point where the time gaps are still very small. This means that most riders are potential GC threats and this will make it much harder for a breakaway to stay away like they did 12 months ago. The race should be a lot more controlled as the GC riders don’t want to lose their grip on the race as we go into the decisive weekend.


However, lots of teams will be keen to ride offensively. Etixx-QuickStep, Lotto Soudal, Katusha and Lampre-Merida are among the strong teams that need to take back time if they want to win the race and even though their best chances come on Saturday and Sunday, they can’t let this opportunity slip away. LottoNL-Jumbo will be riding defensively as they are in pole position with the race leader and the best GC rider.


It will be very interesting to see how BMC approach the stage. Van Avermaet and Gilbert will be among the favourites in a reduced sprint but they need to make the race hard to get rid of the strong sprinters. They can do so by riding fast on the climbs or by going on the attack so they have multiple tactical options. Astana have Lars Boom in a good position and while he will probably ride defensively and try to follow his key rivals, Andriy Grivko and Alexey Lutsenko are free to attack.


This sets the scene for a very fast start to the stage. The terrain is very hard to control and so almost all teams want to have a rider in the early break. It will take a long time for the early break to be formed but as the first part of the stage is not overly difficult, it won’t necessary be the strongest riders who make it.


When the break has gone clear, it will be up to LottoNL-Jumbo to control the race. However, they don’t have the best team to do so as most of them are relatively heavy guys or sprinters. They will have a hard time in the hilly middle section, especially if a strong group of solid climbers have gone clear.


Nonetheless, there is no real chance that the break will stay away. If the situation gets dangerous, BMC and Astana will definitely lend a hand unless they have a rider in the break. Hence, it will be a key mission for LottoNL-Jumbo to keep an eye on the BMC riders in the early part of the stage and if there is no rider from the American team in the break, the early move will be doomed.


Hence, it will come down to the finishing circuit. There are six climbs on the menu but they are all shorter than 1000m and none of them are really steep. There will be a certain amount of elimination from the back but the race really has to be made hard to get rid of the fast riders.


The golden kilometre comes pretty early in the stage and this makes it unlikely that the GC riders will have the chance to go for the seconds. Hence, the GC riders can only score bonus seconds at the finish and by trying to go on the attack. It will be a big surprise if we don’t see any attacks from the GC riders on the final lap but these climbs are simply too easy for them to make a difference. Only riders that have lost a bit of time will get the room to escape. It won’t be impossible for one of them to do so but the most liely outcome is a reduced bunch sprint.


The main question is how many fast finishers will be able to survive the climbs. The sprinters will have to dig deep on the climbs to stay with the best when the GC riders start to attack each other. It requires a solid pair of climbing legs to stay in contention and still have something left for the sprint so close to the top of the final climb.


Last year Danny van Poppel was less than a minute behind the main group at the finish and there is a vast difference between the 2014 and 2015 of the Dutch sprinter. Van Poppel has improved a lot and climbed better than ever at the Tour de Wallonie. He was able to challenge Philippe Gilbert in the uphill sprint in Namur and even dropped the Belgian on the Mur de Thuin two days later. He has always been a good climber but he has obviously reached another level.


The final climbs should be manageable for van Poppel who is obviously in great condition. He has been sprinting really well in the first part of the race and also seems to be faster than ever. If he survives the climbs, he can rely on Fabio Felline and Jasper Stuyven to lead him out which will be very important with a turn so close to the finish. We believe that van Poppel will be hard to drop in this stage and so he is our favourite to come out on top in his home country.


If the challenges are too hard for van Poppel, Trek have another card to play. Fabio Felline is enjoying a breakthrough season and with his good time trial, he is looming as a GC threat. The ten bonus seconds for the stage win would move him close to the race lead and he will be eager to go for the victory tomorrow. With many teams having an interest in making the race hard, there is a solid chance that the sprinters will get dropped and then he could easily be the fastest rider in the group that sprints for the win. Earlier this year he beat Michael Matthews in a sprint in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco which proves that he has the speed to win this kind of stage. He is likely to have Jasper Stuyven at his side to lead him out and if he can get through the final turn in good position, he will be hard to beat.


Last year Greg Van Avermaet tried to attack on the final climb before he won the bunch sprint for 11th. The Belgian would love to win the sprint again and hopes that they will be sprinting for the victory. To come out on top, he needs to get rid of the sprinters and it is likely that BMC will try to make it hard to put Van Avermaet in a position to sprint for the win. With Gilbert also in the team, BMC have two potential winners on their roster but usually Van Avermaet is the fastest in this kind of sprint. He is very good at positioning himself which will be important as Felline is usually faster.


Tom Boonen has already won a stage in this race and he is clearly riding very well. He has done nothing to hide that he is aiming for the win in tomorrow’s stage but he has to dig deep to stay with the best. Boonen is a good classics rider but the amount of climbing could be a bit too much as it was twelve months ago where he finished five minutes behind the winner. However, this year he is better condition and he claims to be climbing sprinting better than ever. Etixx-QuickStep will have strength in numbers in the finale and so should be able to position Boonen perfectly if he survives the challenges.


BMC are mostly focused on the GC but they also have an in-form sprinter on their roster. Jempy Drucker recently won the RideLondon Classic and he has been sprinting excellently in this race. With this kind of condition, there is a solid chance that he will be able to survive the challenges and then he could be one of the fastest in the group that sprints for the win. However, he may not be given his chance in the sprint as the bonus seconds are important for Van Avermaet and Gilbert.


Trek have another in-form sprinter on the start line. Giacomo Nizzolo has been left frustrated in the first sprints and now tomorrow’s stage is his final chance. There is a big chance that the climbs will be too hard for him and there is definitely no guarantee that he will be there in the end. However, he is still one of the best climbers among the sprinters and if he is there at the finish, he is likely to be the fastest. Furthermore, he is great at positioning himself.


Jose Joaquin Rojas is an excellent climber and there is no doubt that he will be able to survive the climbs in this stage. Then it all comes down to whether he can also win the sprint. The Spaniard is a perennial top 10 finisher but for some reason he always misses out in groups where he looks like the fastest rider on paper. He doesn’t have a strong team to lead him out and this could be costly with a turn so close to the finish.


Marco Marcato is in excellent condition and recently finished third in the Tour of Denmark. This stage is tailor-made for him as the climbs are not too hard for him and he is very fast in a sprint. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have the speed that he had a few years ago when he even won a few bunch sprints but with Enrico Gasparotto to lead him out, he has a solid chance if the race becomes selective.


Magnus Cort won lots of races in 2014 but he has not been close to his first Orica-GreenEDGE victory yet. However, tomorrow could be his chance as he is a solid climber and has a fast sprint. In the finale, he can rely on GC rider Jens Keukeleire to lead him out and there is a solid chance that he will be one of the fastest if he can survive the climbs.


The same goes for Nikias Arndt. It has gone mainly unnoticed but the German sprinter is actually a very good climber. Last year he did surprisingly well in much harder terrain in the Tour de Pologne and if he can climb at the same level, he will probably have Zico Waeytens and Simon Geschke to lead him out. Last year he won a stage of the Citerium du Dauphiné and it won’t be impossible for him to repeat that performance in this race.


Jurgen Roelandts dropped out of GC contention in today’s stage and so his main goal is to win a stage. He has two chances to do so and the best one is probably tomorrow’s stage. If it becomes really selective, the stage could be too hard for him but he has done well in harder stages in the Tour of Belgium in the past. However, he rarely gets the chance to sprint nowadays and he is no longer as fast as he once was.


Another rider who needs a selective race is Julian Alaphilippe. The Frenchman is in need of time bonuses after he lost too much in the time trial. He is a pretty fast sprinter but it will be hard for him to come on top if the fast guys survive the challenges. However, if it’s a small group at the finish, he has the speed to win this kind of stage.


Filippo Pozzato has gradually ridden himself into form at the Tour de France and now hopes to put in on show in the late-season classics. Last year he made it into the main group in this stage and he will be keen to do so again tomorrow. He is pretty fast at the end of a hard race as he proved when he won the GO Plouay a few years ago.


Ramunas Navardauskas is clearly riding very well at the moment and so these climbs should not be too hard for him. There is no doubt that he has the speed to win but he positions himself disastrously. With a late turn, that’s definitely not ideal so he needs some luck to win the stage.


Of course the stage is also a good chance for an in-form Philippe Gilbert. However, Greg Van Avermaet is usually faster than him so he is likely to be asked to play a support role. On the other hand, Gilbert showed impressive speed to finish second in the Clasica San Sebastian so this time the roles could be reversed.


Diego Ulissi, Alexey Lutsenko, David Tanner, Viacheslav Kuznetsov, Jens Keukeleire, Tiesj Benoot, Simon Geschke and Enrico Gasparotto all have a chance if the race becomes selective but they are probably not fast enough to win. Moreno Hofland, André Greipel, Arnaud Demare, Elia Viviani, Edward Theuns, Sacha Modolo, Roberto Ferrari and Heinrich Haussler are all relatively good climbers but we doubt that they have the condition or the strength to stay with the best.


Finally, there is a chance that a late attack could work. Look out for Niki Terpstra, Jan Bakelants, Simon Spilak, Manuele Boaro, Tiesj Benoot, Jens Keukeleire, Alexey Lutsenko, Diego Ulissi, Simon Geschke, Enrico Gasparotto and Tom-Jelte Slagter to try such a move.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Danny van Poppel

Other winner candidates: Fabio Felline, Greg Van Avermaet

Outsiders: Tom Boonen, Jempy Drucker, Giacomo Nizzolo, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Marco Marcato, Magnus Cort

Jokers: Nikias Arndt, Jurgen Roelandts, Julian Alaphilippe, Filippo Pozzatto, Ramunas Navarduaskas, Philippe Gilbert, Diego Ulissi, Alexey Lutsenko, Viacheslav Kuznetsov, David Tanner, Jens Keukeleire, Tiesj Benoot, Simon Geschke, Moreno Hofland, André Greipel, Arnaud Demare, Edward Theuns, Elia Viviani, Sacha Modolo, Roberto Ferrari, Heinrich Haussler



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