Behind the Lens: Amstel Gold 2018

I always seem to be banging on about the weather, but it’s pretty important when you’re shooting a bike race, and even more vital when you’re exposed on the back of a moto for the best part of five hours.

It seems winter has finally released its grip on Europe, with blue skies greeting me in Maastricht last weekend for the 2018 running of the Amstel Gold. The race marks the official end of the cobbled classics season and the start of its hillier cousins the Ardennes, featuring three events in little over a week: Sunday’s Amstel Gold, followed by the midweek La Flèche Wallonne, and culminating in the Monument race Liège–Bastogne–Liège on Sunday the 22nd of April.

Following a minute’s silence for Michael Goolaerts—the young Belgian rider who tragically died during this year’s Paris–Roubaix—the peloton rolled out under clear blue skies, heading for the hills of Limburg. Because the course covers most of the key climbs several times, it provides photographers a great opportunity to capture the riders from several angles on the same ascent.

As with most races, the main group were in no hurry to get the racing underway, but allowed a small group to make a substantial break, at one point stretching the gap to more than fifteen minutes. The main protagonists stayed safely inside the soft pedalling peloton; it was a stellar line-up with the likes of Valverde, Kwiatkowski, Landa, Sagan, Van Avermaet and Nibali to name but a few.

Bike races often follow a predictable format: an early break goes up ahead, kept at arm’s length by the peloton until around 50k to go. Then the peloton roars into action, catching the break so the heavy hitters can come to the fore. Until that point, riders concentrated on safely complete the Amstel Gold’s many climbs before the hive of frenetic activity during that last 50k.

Though there was little action during the majority of the race, large and enthusiastic crowds—no doubt swelled by the pleasant weather—were rewarded with several passages of the peloton, especially for those with prime viewing positions on the climbs.

The final attacks of the race took place during the 20-kilometre loop around the outskirts of Valkenburg, a scenic medieval town popular with tourists. After shooting the penultimate climb we followed the race toward the finish, picking off the back markers who’d been dropped off the back of the peloton, which was now running at full gas. At the finish line, a large crowd eagerly watched a giant video screen, keeping tabs on the action unfolding around the lanes of Valkenburg; I was there to capture the arms-in-the-air moment as Astana’s Michael Valgren broke free to take the biggest win of his career.

Words & Images: Chris Auld

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