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Preview: Gilbert on form for the Amstel Gold Race

Favourites assemble in the Netherlands for Amstel Gold Race

Zeb Woodpower

The peloton climb during Amstel Gold Race

The peloton climb during Amstel Gold Race

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With the conclusion of the cobbled Classics, the peloton's focus now shifts toward the three Ardennes Classics, and its opening round, the Amstel Gold Race. Only two men have ever swept the trio of hilly races, and Philippe Gilbert (BMC) has taken one step toward repeating his feat of 2011 by winning the Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday.

Although Gilbert has only stepped onto one Ardennes Classics podium since 2011, he will nonetheless begin Sunday’s 251km race with a target on his back.

Challengers who could shoot Gilbert down include the top four from last year in reverse order, Polish road race champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and defending champion Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo).

Minus Kreuziger, all three started 2014 at lightning speed winning both one-day and stage races. Valverde and Kwiatkowski have held their form from February while Gerrans has been struck down by illness.

The 49th edition of Amstel Gold Race is sure to be another race of attrition with over 30 climbs, twists and turns and a plethora of traffic furniture to keep the peloton on its toes for six-and-half-hours. While the race is youngest of the Ardennes classics, the creation of Ton Vissers and Herman Krott, the list of winners is long and illustrious.

Dutchman Jan Raas holds the record of most wins with five, which included four straight, while Eddy Merxck, Gerrie Knetemann, Rolf Järmann and Gilbert all have two wins to their name. Gilbert has the opportunity to jump ahead and claim a third win.

After the cobbled classics and the continued drought of the Italians, La Gazzetta dello Sport have turned their attention to just who can break the duck.

Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) rode a canny race in 2012 to pip Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol) on the line in Amstel, while Peter Sagan (Cannondale) won the sprint for third. Gasparotto defended his title with a credible ninth place last year but he looks unlikely to challenge for the win this year.

Diego Ulissi (Lampre Merida) has proven he has a kick that is just as fast as Gerrans' and may just be man that Italy has been calling out for.

The prospect of victory is looking better for the French with Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Arthur Vichot ( two outsiders for a maiden Amstel Gold crown. Bardet’s teammate Carlos Betancur was impressive during the Ardennes last year and looks to have his sights on La Flèche Wallonne or Liège–Bastogne–Liège more than Amstel Gold.

The Schleck brothers both have tasted victory in the Ardennes – Frank in 2008 Amstel Gold in 2006 and Andy in Liège in 2009 – although their target may also be later in the week.

Bauke Mollema (Belkin) and compatriot Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) and the French duo of Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) are capable of causing an upset but a top-ten placing seems more likely.

Garmin Sharp look like they have several hands to play in Darn Martin, Tom-Jelte Slagter and Nathan Haas while Joaquim Rodriguez is always dangerous when there are ascents in sight, in particular when paired with Katusha teammate Dani Moreno.

With a stellar start list, Amstel Gold is sure to set off the week of racing with aggressive and offensive riding on display, where sub-plots of 2014 Ardennes Classics first emerge, names are made and palmarès consolidated.

For more about this week's racing see Cycling News HD

SourKraut 7 days ago
I believe it's "Damn Martin"
BackSeatRider 7 days ago
I know I am in the minority, but I enjoy the Ardennes more the cobbles. It is going to be a fun week.
bike_boy 6 days ago
I love them both!
DrBigRing 6 days ago
If Jill Bear is performing well, it must mean his contract is up this year.
JantonStentenan 6 days ago
Now that's uncalled for. Maybe if people didn't butcher his name he'd be more inclined to perform well.
Fantic 6 days ago
Betancur is the biggest favorite with Gilbert and Kwiatkowski. I dont prefer anyone of them. Im fan of young guns but also it would be beautiful to see one of the todays greatest place himself amongst all time greatest. Or maybe become the greatest of all. It will surely be interesting race.
TANK91 6 days ago
Lol Gilbert int worth the food the team gives him he should be starved imo. Him and Hushovd are the biggest embarrasements in this sport. See Hushovd other day im open to offers? Ha ha Thor "keep getting them checks"
DeeCeeee 4 days ago
Ha Ha
Nathan12 5 days ago
Betancur for Fleche, not Amstel.
Raoul Duke 6 days ago
Jan Raas with four in a row, amazing achievement
TANK91 6 days ago
Watch Kanstantin Suitsou win the triple he will dominate and dont forget Jens Voigt the futre talents of our sport.
BigMac 6 days ago
Who wrote this preview? It has got to be a joke. All those silly names and you fail to mention the World Champion as a favourite for the win? You mentioned Kreuziger, who won the race last year from a break, and would have been completely smoked had it come to a sprint up the Cauberg (with the favourites) or a sprint to the finnish line. You mention Ulissi, a rider who never proved himself in longer distances and when he performs well as a puncheur, it's on much steeper slopes than the 8% of the Cauberg. Voeckler? Congratulations on yet another fail article.
pmyraje27 5 days ago
Voeckler has only slightly more chance than I do of winning and that only because he'll likely be on the start line and I won't!
movingtarget 5 days ago
The world champion was not mentioned because he has no chance. He has as much chance of winning the Tour or Giro..
BigMac 5 days ago
Are you kidding me? The point is that all those ridiculous names were mentioned and not the World Champ. Do you actually believe Weening and Voeckler (just to name a few) have more chances of winning that Rui Costa? Lol then.
Pedal Pusher 6 days ago
Gilbert has many of the BMC A team to support him in this race - if he doesn't do well it might be a bit embarassing!
jelly legs 4 days ago
Geraint Thomas to win if he can stay on his bike.
jelly legs 3 days ago
he can't