It was a golden day in the Netherlands for the Amstel Gold race. The day greeted us with good temperatures and clear skies. Being totally atypical for the weather this time of year, I certainly was not complaining! It was an early start to the day though after being used to the Spanish schedule of Pais Vasco. Most days in Pais Vasco, we were waking up at 9-930am, while yesterday we were already at the start! That is totally necessary though when the race is 260km long.
The race started off pretty nicely with relatively flatter roads and only a few small climbs. For me, it was a brutal start because my legs were totally blocked. I had fear going into the race that I would be struggling from the start, and my fear was confirmed. I thought for a short moment that I was going to get shot out the back before 20km was past. I was barely hanging on the back of the nearly 200 rider peleton. I made it through the initial hour plus of racing finally starting to feel better. The pace was high for the first hour (~50kmh), and I was actually hoping we were going to continue like that because then the 260km would go faster, but inevitably it had to slow down, which it did after the break went around the 50km mark. Then it was time to settle in for a long day in the saddle.
Thankfully the long day in the saddle was never super boring thanks to the small roads, hundreds of turns and never-ending road furniture. If we weren't going up or down, we were going left or right, or we were swerving to avoid a traffic island or squeeze between some sort of traffic control strewn about the roadway. I was blessed with good weather for my first Amstel experience, but I can only imagine what this race is like if it is rainy and/or windy. I hope it stays that way, too! Although I do hope to come back and race the race again, so surely my luck cannot always be so good.
For the total of the 260km race, I don't think we ventured outside of a 40km square area. The race was constantly overlapping itself and circling here, there, everywhere. I was so confused where we actually were, but it didn't matter too much. My only job was to survive and try to help the team when it was needed. The whole day was a battle for me. With such small roads and so many riders, it was nearly impossible to be in good position the whole time. For me being such a good "position" rider, it was a particular struggle. I don't know if I saw the top half of the peleton more than 30 minutes of the 6.5 hour race yesterday. It was really frustrating actually, and I am sure a huge waste of energy. Usually it is much easier to ride in the front of the race because the "flow" is much better up there; a lot less braking in the corners followed by the accelerations out of the corners. Being in the front is not always the easiest though because that is where everyone wants to be! I was a victim of positioning several times yesterday. On one climb, I was at a stand still three times because the roads were so narrow. On another climb, I turned for the start and was immediately stopped at the bottom because we had turned off a wider road onto a narrower road, so inevitably it was clogged. Those are the things that cause a lot of energy waste and where positioning is key.
As far as how the race played out, it is very much a race of survival because of the distance and plentiful small climbs (31 "classified" yesterday, but there were plenty of extras) wearing you down slowly. If you have good positioning and take care of the important things like eating/drinking enough throughout the day, you have a good chance of making the front group when the first big selections are made. For me, I was in good enough positioning, and my legs were starting to feel much better toward the end of the race, that I was able to make the first big selections of the race. Then as the pace moved up and the finale was approaching, I was able to help the team with some last minute bottle/gel delivery, but then got caught behind/in two different crashes. Chasing back on from these crashes wasted a lot of energy for me, and despite my legs coming much stronger toward the end of the race, I was unable to make it to a small group over the top of one of the climbs. I was only 50 meters off the back as we were approaching the summit of one of the climbs, but I could not make the connection. I chased hard over the top and for the next 10km but never rejoined. Despite feeling disappointed in missing that group, I am very happy that my legs were feeling so much stronger toward the end of the day because that hopefully means they will be strong for Fleche and Liege.