Costa was cautiously optimistic about the upcoming trio of races.
"Anyone who knows me is aware that I'm ambitious, but also realistic," said Costa. "Opponents are strong, we'll try hard to do our best. In the Ardenne Classics, I hope to be better than in Vuelta al Pais Vasco. I worked hard to be well physically for these Classics, and I'll give my best, as I always do in every race."
"The Ardenne Classics are important races, I really love to take part in them. Me and Team Lampre-Merida will do our utmost to honor the rainbow jersey and the team's sponsors."
Cunego, on the other hand, has made the podium at all three races in the past. "I love the Ardenne Classics, and I have always managed to be competitive," said Cunego. "This year, one of the main goals was the Ardenne Classics week, that's why I worked in order to be ready to face Amstel, Fleche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege."
"In Vuelta al Pais Vasco, I had felt very good and the feedback I got was amazing, so I only ask to have luck to try to be a protagonist."
Ulissi, the third star in the Lampre-Merida Ardennes line-up, said, "My morale is very good, I want to fight on every meter to prove our team is strong: Rui Costa, Cunego and my high quality teammates can really be protagonists in the Ardennes."
"This is the fourth year I am facing the Ardenne Classics. Each season I added experience to my profile, so I think I could be ready to have a place among the top cyclists, maybe especially in Fleche Wallone."
Cavendish is targeting the first stage of the Tour de France but has suffered with illness since Milan-San Remo. He will ride the Tour of Turkey (April 27-May 4) before heading to the USA.
"As everybody knows, my big goal this year is the Tour de France. Especially as it starts in my native country. My program is shaped for that moment," Cavendish said in a statement from the OPQS team.
"This year I will skip the Giro d'Italia. I'm saddened as it's a race that has given me great satisfaction in the past. I have great memories and victories, even last year. But, with the Tour de France as my main objective this year, we had to make some choices."
"I'm sure passing through the Tour of Turkey, and a great, well organized race like Tour of California will get me in shape and ready for the Tour de Suisse, which will be my final tune-up for the Tour de France."
Cavendish will be joined by frequent training partner and lead out man Alessandro Petacchi at the Tour of Turkey, while the veteran Italian will ride the Giro d'Italia with Rigoberto Uran the team leader for the first Grand Tour of the season.
Cavendish won five stages and the red points jersey at the 2013 Giro d'Italia. However finishing the three-week race left him jaded for the Tour de France. He still won two stages in France but Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) emerged as the most successful sprinter of the Tour de France, winning four stages, including the first in Olbia to take...
All eyes on the Netherlands for a Classic on Sunday
The WorldTour riders will line up for the 49th edition of the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday in the Netherlands. The first of the so-called Classic features 251km with 34 climbs in the Limburg hills of southern Holland, including four trips up the famous Cauberg.
In 2013, Roman Kreuziger outsmarted his competition with a late attack and took the win.
Check out this video for more info about the Amstel Gold Race and a more detailed recap of last year's edition. Or read our race preview to find out who are this year's favorites.
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Spaniard leads Movistar in Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Alejandro Valverde will lead the eight-man Movistar team for the Ardennes Classics, starting with the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday. His teammates will include Imanol Erviti, John Gadret, Beñat Intxausti, Ion Izagirre, Jesús Herrada, Gorka Izagirre and Iván Gutiérrez.
The 78th Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, April 23 and the 100th edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, April 27 will be the next stops for Valverde, who in tackling some of his biggest goals of the season, is confident about his chances.
"It's always an important week for me, because I like these races very much and they suit me well," said the Spaniard. "That's why I'm always happy to start the Ardennes trio. I won't say I'm coming here to see how I'm doing and trying to finish up-front. As I'm feeling right now, the only goal is winning. We know it's much easier said than done - I was also doing well last year, I was always at the front but couldn't win any of the three. These are prestigious races where you have to fight against the best, but we're aiming the highest here."
"They always ask me about which would I choose from the three if I could win just one, but I won't do that because I like all three much," said Valverde. "It's true that the Amstel has always been hard to get for me - I got second and third there - but I'm still in love with Liège. I will give my 100% in all three."
"Differences between them? The Amstel is the most crazy. Many turns, narrow roads... you always have to keep the front. If you spend the race at the back, pace changes kill you. Flèche is decided into the final climb, and Liège is a race where physical condition counts a lot, côtes becoming real, long climbs -...
Australian national champion also eyes Liege-Bastogne-Liege
Simon Gerrans will lead the Orica-GreenEdge team at Sunday's Amstel Gold Race, hoping to put his green and gold Australian national champion's on the top step of the podium after finishing third in 2013 behind lone winner Roman Kreuziger and Alejandro Valverde.
Gerrans was on fire in January when he won the Tour Down Under but struggled with illness when he returned to Europe. However he showed he has found his Ardennes form at Wednesday's De Brabantse Pijl race by going on the attack and helping Michael Matthews take second in the sprint behind Philippe Gilbert (BMC).
Gerrans will not ride Fleche-Wallonne, with Orica-GreenEdge bringing several pairs of fresh legs for the mid-week race, but is convinced he can leave his mark in Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
“I’m really happy with my condition at the moment leading into Amstel Gold. Although it’s been a turbulent spring for me with sickness and few minor setbacks, the final phase of my preparation for the Ardennes has gone really well," Gerrans said in a press release from the team.
"I’ve put the rungs on the board with Amstel in the past, so I’m probably going to be the guy the team looks to get a result on Sunday, and I feel up for the challenge.”
Gerrans will be backed by Christian Meier, Daryl Impey, Mathew Hayman, Michael Albasini, Michael Matthews, Pieter Weening and Simon Clarke.
Matthews will be Orica-GreenEdge's sprint option if the race stays together and if he can handle the 34 Limburg hills and the final climb of the Cauberg.He was an impressive second at De Brabantse Pijl.
“The goal is to win, but there are a lot of other teams and riders with the exact same goal. I think the main...
After some lacklustre seasons, Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) showed some of the sparkle of old at the recent Tour of the Basque, landing 6th place overall and placing consistently throughout the week. The Italian denied changing coaches and has instead credited the upturn in his fortunes partly to a return to his hometown of Verona after a year and a half in exile in Switzerland.
“Moving to Lugano had taken a lot of serenity away from me,” Cunego told Gazzetta dello Sport. “I missed my places and my training routes – my country, really. And my family wasn’t happened. I could feel their unease, their difficulties and that took away my calm. Adults can make a go of it, but children can’t and they suffer. So from January 1, after a year and a half in Switzerland, I moved back.”
A native of Cerro Veronese, on the outskirts of the city, Cunego now lives at the foot of the climb where he forged his victory in the junior world road race championships in 1999. “I live in Verona, right below the Torricelle. It must be destiny.”
Cunego won Amstel Gold Race in 2008 and finished 5th and 6th in the two following years, although he hasn’t been a factor in the intervening period. He lines up among the contenders on Sunday, although he acknowledged that Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC) are the favourites for victory.
“Gilbert is going well. In the Basque Country, every now and then he stuck his nose out but since he wasn’t interested in the general classification, he would sit up. He’s coming here right on form,” Cunego said.
The finale of Amstel Gold Race has changed since Cunego’s victory six years ago. The finish line is no...
Belgian points to Kwiatkowski and Valverde as danger men
Philippe Gilbert’s victory at Brabantse Pijl has marked him out as the favourite for Amstel Gold Race but the BMC rider has also identified Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) as men to watch at the Ardennes Classics.
“Valverde and Kwiatkowski are, to my mind, the big favourites for the next three races based on what they have shown so far,” Gilbert said, according to La Dernière Heure. “They climb well, they’re fast in the sprint and they can also rely on very solid teams.”
Valverde has a strong record in the Ardennes classics, landing a brace of wins at Liège-Bastogne-Liège (2006 and 2008) and winning Flèche Wallonne in 2006. Kwiatkowski, meanwhile, was hugely impressive in dispatching of Peter Sagan in the finale of Strade Bianche last month, and Gilbert feels the Pole is part of an emerging generation of talent capable of winning on hilltop finishes.
“[Joaquim] Rodriguez and I were practically the only two specialists but some young riders have come to join that battle and that’s normal,” Gilbert said. “The competition on this particular terrain is much sharper now. The list of contenders for Sunday is long because a lot of riders are capable of winning this race.”
As a consequence, Gilbert insisted that it would not be BMC’s sole responsibility to control the Sunday's Amstel Gold Race in the lead-in to the final ascent of the Cauberg. The Belgian, who won the race in 2010 and 2011 also stressed that he was taking nothing for granted about his own chances.
“I’ve been in the pro peloton for twelve years now and I know that one of the errors you must never commit is to...
Luxembourg rider returns to Classics after year on sidelines
After missing the 2013 season because of a doping suspension, Fränk Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) returns to Amstel Gold Race confident that he has prepared adequately but unsure as to what result he can expect on Sunday.
Schleck claimed his first major international win when he landed victory at the Dutch race in 2006, and he was narrowly defeated by Damiano Cunego atop the Cauberg two years later.
Schleck’s best result since the end of his ban for a positive test for the diuretic Xipamide was 4th place on the final stage of the Critérium International last month, and he is not certain what he can achieve over the longer distance at Amstel Gold Race.
“I’m going to try to do the best possible, that’s not news. But I won’t know myself what that [the best possible] is until I’m in the race,” Schleck told Le Quotidien. “I can’t make predictions but I’m in a favourable position. I feel good. I’ve worked a lot, maybe even too much.”
Schleck abandoned the recent Tour of the Basque Country on the final day, citing illness, and he acknowledged that he may have taken on too heavy a workload in training beforehand.
“I had so much motivation after Paris-Nice and Critérium International that I rode a lot before the Tour of the Basque Country. Without doubt, too much… I worked full on and I felt it in the Basque Country. But the coaches, Kim [Andersen] and I agreed that it would pay off during these classics.
“The motivation is there and the team is behind me. After that, we’ll have to see how the races go and how my legs are. The human body isn’t something you can just adjust like a...