International Cycle Sport | May 1973 | Issue No 60 | Page 8
The Curse of the Amstel Gold
By Peter Duker
Of all the races in the Continental calendar, The Amstel Gold Race is probably the most sociably agreeable. Organised and promoted by the powerful Amstel / Heineken Brewery, the various proceedings make sure that no-one overlooks this fact! The British journalistic contingent, including David Saunders and John Hamilton representing London Weekend Television’s "World of Sport", had been booked into Heerlen’s Grand Hotel. Thus the "down time" prior to the race, on this occasion the previous evening, was spent in most convivial surroundings.
After going off course the first time, we came up behind the race to find a small group off the back who were helping Noel van Tyghem to rejoin after trouble, and we sped past the Raleigh team car that was collecting Dave Lloyd who was abandoning because of recurring gland trouble, which had been incurred by keeping knee plasters on too long in a previous event.
Saturday dawned clear and sunlit and it looked as if, for the very first time, that the Amstel was going to have a fine day. However, by ten o’clock, Old Sol had disappeared, and by the time the massive field lined up for the start freezing rain came battering down to give us some intimation of what was to follow. In addition to the State police outriders the brewery had recruited a team of mobile marshals mounted on enormous shining American Harley Davidsons, and the whole entourage looked tremendously impressive roaring through the streets with their double blue lights flashing and sirens wailing.
The action wasn’t long in getting underway with Harrie Janssen (Ha-Ro) pounding off the front to a minute’s lead. By the time he reached the steep slopes of the famous Cauberg he’d been caught by Charles Rouxel (Peugeot), Ferdi Peersman ( Rokado), Theo van der Leeuw and Wim Wanders (both Canada Dry/Gazelle), although at the moment of the junction Wanders had had enough and went back to the huge bunch. Janssen died a death on the Cauberg, and the other three settled down to their task. The lead grew to around the 3-minute mark and stayed that way for about two hours! The weather conditions were extremely odd, to say the least, and as the course twisted and turned the race kept running in and out of rain storms.
The route is so complicated that in all of it’s 238 Km it never gets further than 15 Km from the finish line! Every now and again our car would miss a turning, but within a couple of minutes we’d come across the race again somewhere. One particular trick done several times was to take the event through a village, up a steep climb, down by another route, and back into the place from a different direction. This of course is tremendous from the spectators point of view, and there were thousands upon thousands of them packing the steep hills that are the main feature, apart from the foul weather, of this Classic.
A professional survey put the crowd at 200,000!
With the enormous amount of following vehicles, together with the narrowness of the roads, it was extremely imprudent to try and pass the huge peloton. Our driver knew the district well, so we just whizzed over to somewhere else and waited for the riders to get to us.
There was a particularly odd scene at one time, when a young police outrider stopped all the press cars to let a completely hammered Harrie Janssen go through. A lot of argy-bargy went on, and when he let us all through there was a rapid saloon-car race to get up to the leaders again!
Apart from a machine change, Eddy Merckx hadn’t been mentioned on the radio, and it was up to Herman Van Springel to open the batting from behind. The Rokado boss had told us at the start that he wasn’t too pleased at the showing of the squad this year up to now, and from the final result it may be seen that his ‘’suggestions’’ to the team seem to have been taken at face value!
Anyhow, this time Joop Zoetemelk jumped on Van Springel's wheel and put paid to that particular venture. Hennie Kuiper, the Olympic Gold medallist, now riding in the colours of Ha-Ro, then took off in company with Maurice Dury (Flandria). Dury was duly dropped, and another attack by Van Springel and Zoetemelk nullified Kuiper’s efforts.
Meanwhile, up front, at the 125 km point just after Eys came a savage bit of drama that only bike-racing can dish up. The break was 3 minutes up and going very well when Van der Leeuw snapped his chain. There was no service vehicle in behind them, the only criticism that I have of an otherwise faultless organisation . . . so then there were two. One kilometre farther on and there was Peersman brandishing a wheel above his head, again to no avail, so it was all down to Rouxel to try and stay clear alone.
It says a great deal for this boy’s courage that not once did he give up trying. The massive crowds on the hillsides and in the villages gave him a terrific boost of course, but nevertheless the task was going to be too much for him.
Back in the main field, the irrepressible Van Springel went again, this time with Jurgen Tschan (Peugeot) and Spain’s new hope for the future Santiago Lascaro (Kas). They weren’t the only ones to start leaping about in the front of the bunch, and all this started really whittling down Rouxel’s lead who had passed through the feeding-station at 130 Km with a 2’40 advantage.
Mariano Martinez (Gan/Mercier) attacked really hard right after the feed, and at one time got in sight of Rouxel, but it all proved too much for him and the gauntlet was taken up by Cees Bal, his team-mate, winner of last year’s Greenall Whitley 2 Day. Unfortunately this too came to nothing, but the quarry was being inexorably brought back. Rouxel started cramping up just before another descent into Eys, and on the following climb out was in serious trouble.
As he was caught, a furious attack by 13 men, smashed the remainder of the field to pieces and, led as it was by Eddy Merckx, Frans Verbeek, and all the top men in the race, this was obviously the good one. Barry Hoban was in this group too, but we saw nothing of him in the later stages.
Amstel Gold 1973
1 E Merckx Molteni 6:38:16
2 F Verbeeck Watney-Maes at 3:13
3 H Van Springel Rokado at 3:15
4 J Zoetemelk Gitane at 3:49
5 H Kuiper Ha-Ro at 4:15
6 A van Vlierbergen Rokado at 5:35
7 R de Witte Flandria at 5:40
8 F Maertens Flandria at 5:59
9 W Godefroot Flandria at 8:05
10 S Lazcano KAS at at 8:10
11 G Pintens Rokado
12 N v d Clooster Ijsboerke at 9:30
13 R Rosiers BIC at 9:34
14 M Lievens Molteni
15 G van Roosbroek Rokado at 9:59
16 A Houbrechts Rokado
17 J Schoeters Ijsboerke at 10:22
18 L van Stayen Watney
19 J Huismans Molteni
20 J Catiau BIC
21 R Bouloux Peugeot
22 M Perin Gan-Mercier at 10:34
23 B Janbroers Canada-Dry at 10:40
24 N Cael Novy at 10:54
25 R Maes Hertekamp at 11:00
26 R Gilson Ha-Ro at 11:43
27 G Vianen Gitane at 12:08
On another little circuit, which we went round twice, was a very long stretch of muddy sand, which must have caused havoc in what was left of the peloton, and didn’t do too much for the sartorial splendour of the leaders either.
In a particularly fierce sleet-storm that turned the narrow lanes into seas of mud, Hennie Kuiper took off alone and there was panic stations in the preceding press cars as we couldn’t go fast enough to stay clear of him. However, a second ascent ot the cruel Keuteberg slowed him sufficiently for order to be restored up front, and by the time we saw him again he’d been joined by Merckx and Zoetemelk.
On the climb into Sibbe (215 km) Merckx punched his way to the top, looked back, and seeing that his companions were, to all intents and purposes, hors-de-combat, set his face into that look I have seen so often, an expression that all-too-clearly says ‘’This is mine’’. Kuiper had got away from Zoetemelk, but both of them were completely shattered. I’ve never seen Zoetemelk in such a state before, just dropping over his machine as he gallantly defended his third place.
Eventually the race controller let us past him, and we set off in pursuit of the amazing Belgian. We were absolutely astonished at the time it took us to reach him, because even Zoetemelk had climbed the Cauberg at some 30 kph and in 12 km Merckx had taken about 3 minutes out of the pair of them! At Maastricht, with 11 km to go, we were in brilliant sunshine, but a quick glance rearwards told us that once more "The Curse of the Amstel Gold" was in full attendance. By the time Merckx was due to finish it was almost completely dark, snowing and sleeting, and the advance guard of marshalls’ and police motorcycles was fabulously impressive, the myriad red and blue lights flashing as they followed the leader up the long gradient.
At 100 metres, Eddy Merckx was completely invisible from the finishing line, so bad were the conditions, and time-honoured pandemonium reigned as photographers jostled for the vantage positions in the driving sleet, with the police, just as vehemently trying to dislodge them. Then he was over the line, leaning exhaustedly against his helpers covered in mud and muck, gasping for air. But, within a minute or two, his face had been washed, a new jersey on him, and a clean white Molteni cap to finish the job.
Frans Verbeek and Van Springel had caught Kuiper and Zoetemelk to take 2nd and 3rd places, but I think that if any prize had been handed out for sheer guts it would have gone to Hennie Kuiper, as he had been extremely active all day, not an easy task for a first-year pro in an event as tough as this one.
Only 28 riders managed to finish out of a field of some 200 starters, and if the Raleigh team didn’t manage to get a man over the line they were in good company, for neither did Gan-Mercier, Sonolor, or Kela! Rokado got as many as 6 men in safely, so they must have been extremely impressed by the chief’s "rocket"!
This particular Amstel Gold Race had been a magnificent success for the sponsors, Eddy Merckx having proved worth every guilder he had asked for his contract fee, and the course itself well on its way to becoming what Marcel Eyck, the organiser, told me earlier in the year in Amsterdam that it would become ‘’The Toughest Classic Race of All’’.