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Mardennes: The Amstel Gold Homage

by Anthony Little |

THE CLASSICS

The fetishization of all-things Belgian and its associated Spring Classic races by American fans is legendary. There are socks. There are kits. There are bottles. There are bikes. There are even restaurants. And yes, there are rides. And races. It seems that every local cycling association has a "YOURNAMEHERE Roubaix", or a "Hell of the INSERTLOCALROAD". Ironically, Paris-Roubaix, while dominated by the Belgians, is, in fact, located entirely in France (sidenote: Paris-Roubaix doesn't start anywhere near Paris, either). And thus, in joining the hordes of prototypical brash Low Country aficionados on this side of the pond with our own Classics-styled homage kit, we felt it apropos to lend a hand to another race that doesn't get enough love from the Flanders-fixated crowd: The Amstel Gold Race, Holland's entrant into the hilly one-day races held in the latter half of April known as the Ardennes Classics.
Amstel and its siblings, Liège–Bastogne–Liège and La Flèche Wallonne, are distinctive for their tight, technical racing in the forest of the Ardennes, with punchy, steep hills - enough that the big Belgian hammers of the earlier Flemish Classics usually stay away. Instead, a mix of climbers and puncheurs rule the day in the Ardennes, lithe riders capable of delivering huge efforts over short, steep hills, over and over again. The Ardennes are deceptively difficult, and never to be underestimated. French generals made that mistake in 1940 during World War II's opening months. They left the dark forest lightly defended, assuming the flora and topography would grind any advance from the East to a crawl. They were wrong. In a matter of weeks, the German blitzkrieg would smash through the Ardennes, taking Paris and the whole of France until Allied liberation four years later. In much the same way, resting on one's laurels during an Ardennes Classic will leave the rider caught out, off the back, or worse - in a ditch. Unfortunately, none of us are in the WorldTour, or located anywhere near the Ardennes. Fortunately, our backyard in Marin County proffers much of the same terrain and roads that make the latter Classics so arduous. We'd like to present our own apparel homage, route, and terrible portmanteau - The Mardennes.
 

THE ROUTE

Bay Area local? You're in luck. A course any Walloon would be proud of - the sharks teeth of the profile tell the whole story. Bring your Wahoo, bring your Garmin: You will get lost. The shorter elevation and distance total belies the sharp 18% hills, occasional dirt, and technical descents: No climb is longer than 1km, and nothing is flat. It is 115.7km of pure punishment. It visits roads unknown to many locals, wending its way through the lost bergs and muurs of Southern Marin County. Want to ride it? Give us a shout. We might be in, but our guides only take payment in tripel from the Gestalt House. Peep the Strava Route.

THE KIT

We've been chomping at the bit to make a Classics-style kit for some time, but the industry-wide obsession with the Belgian tricolor and the Vlaamse Leeuw gave us pause. Has the Lion of Flanders jumped the shark? Perhaps. While researching the history of the aforementioned Amstel Gold Race, we read up on the tiny sliver of Dutch hill country the race takes place in: Limburg. A chunk of ground with history deeper than most anyone can remember, traded between kings, presidents, parliaments, dukes, and dictators, tucked between Flanders and Germany. Turns out, Limburg ALSO has a lion. And a tricolor. What better way to commemorate the unheralded Classic? With our friends at DNA Cycling, we set to work splaying the new classic livery on Italian lycra.
Shop the kit, and give us a shout if you're taking a crack at the route.

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