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Big Guns at Amstel Gold

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Apr 17, 2015 – Reigning champion Philippe Gilbert faces stiff competition as he bids for a fourth victory in the Amstel Gold race on Sunday.

AFP/Yuzuru Sunada

The biggest and longest one-day classic in the Netherlands will see riders complete 258km and tackle 34 climbs – amounting to more than four vertical kilometers of climbing – on their way from Maastricht to Valkenburg.

Alongside three-time winner Gilbert, there will be six other former victors in the field, as well as a new breed of hungry, talented potential champions. Most notably amongst those is current road race world champion Michal Kwiatkowski from Poland.

He had a fantastic Ardennes Classics campaign in 2014, earning top five finishes in all three events – the other two being Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The finish in Valkenburg, 1.8km beyond the final, tough Cauberg climb, is ideally suited to a rider like Kwiatkowski.

He’s also the kind of rider who might not wait for the final of four ascensions of the Cauberg to make his move and although the race often comes down to a punchers’ shoot-out on that final climb, only two years ago, Czech Roman Kreuziger made his winning move with more than 15km remaining.

Gilbert’s devilish, and perfectly-timed, acceleration on the Cauberg last year proved too much for his competition and he will no doubt be a man to watch this time around, despite the negative publicity surrounding his BMC team.

One of their riders, Greg Van Avermaet, is battling against a doping storm – the Belgium cycling federation has recommended a two-year ban for Van Avermaet, who denies any wrongdoing over medication he took in 2012.

Kwiatkowski’s Etixx-Quick Step team have just come out of a hugely frustrating cobbled classics season in which they managed second place finishes at Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, E3 Harelbeke and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but only one victory through Mark Cavendish at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Niki Terpstra-Flanders

Belgians Etixx will come into the race with a strong team and the determination to ruin Dutch hopes of a home success. The usual suspects will likely be present in the final run-in with Spaniards Alessandro Valverde — a twice winner of both Fleche and Liege — and Joaquim Rodriguez — Fleche winner in 2012 and twice a victor of the Tour of Lombardie – both boasting the characteristics to succeed in Valkenburg.

Irishman Dan Martin, the Liege winner in 2013 who almost certainly would have made that a double last year but for a crash on the final bend, is another to keep an eye on, as well as Australian sprinter Michael Matthews. Orica-GreenEdge’s most suited rider is Simon Gerrans, the current Liege champion, but he is coming back from a broken elbow and probably doesn’t have the form that took him to third place last year. However, if Matthews can stick with the leading group on the final Cauberg ascension, he would be the favorite in a sprint finish.

Last year’s runner-up Jelle Vanendert will lead the charge for Lotto-Soudal, ably backed up by Frenchman Tony Gallopin, who is also suited to this type of race and has shown strong form recently, notably at Paris-Nice where he led going into the final stage timetrial but was surpassed by a Richie Porte firing on all cyclinders.

Climber Bauke Mollema and timetrialist Tom Dumoulin hold the main home hopes while Sergio Henao of Team Sky will fancy his chances off the back of his strong showing at the Tour of the Basque Country. Former winners Franck Schleck, Davide Rebellin, Stefan Schumacher, Damiano Cunego and Enrico Gasparotto could get in the mix but their best chances of victory would seem to come from a breakaway before the final Cauberg climb.

A list of the last 10 winners of the Amstel Gold race, the first of three Ardennes Classics which begins in Maastricht on Sunday:

2014 – Philippe Gilbert (BEL)
2013 – Roman Kreuziger (CZE)
2012 – Enrico Gasparotto (ITA)
2011 – Philippe Gilbert (BEL)
2010 – Philippe Gilbert (BEL)
2009 – Serguei Ivanov (RUS)
2008 – Damiano Cuengo (ITA)
2007 – Stefan Schumacher (GER)
2006 – Frank Schleck (LUX)
2005 – Danilo Di Luca (ITA)

Factfile on the Amstel Gold:

First edition: 1966
Number of editions: 49
First winner: Jean Stablinski (FRA)
Current champion: Philippe Gilbert (BEL)
Most wins: Jan Raas (NED) 5
Length: 258km
Number of climbs: 34
Departs: Maastricht
Arrives: Valkenburg
Number of teams: 25
Number of riders: 200