AG2R-La Mondiale head to Amstel Gold Race with two leaders in Jan Bakelants and Alexis Vuillermoz as it embarks on an ambitions Ardennes campaign. Romain Bardet will miss the first of the three races with the Frenchman eyeing off Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 24.
Bakelants has ridden Amstel Gold Race on five previous occasions with 24th last year his best result to date. The Belgian started his season with a stage win and the points classification at La Méditerranéenne, continuing his run of form with two top-tens at La Provence, ninth at Classic Sud Ardèche, second at La Drôme Classic, a top five on stage 4 at Tirreno - Adriatico and 16th at Milan-San Remo. Sixth place on the opening stage of Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco was further evidence of Bakelants's early-season form before injuries from a previous crash saw him abandon the race.
"My shoulder was really painful during Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco because of my crash in Milan San Remo," he said. "I was feeling well on the first stage (6th stage overall) but the terrible weather conditions did not help me to recover properly. Therefore, I decided to withdraw on stage 5 in order to have additional medical examinations. Then, I took three days off to rest and it was a great idea!"
Having rested and recovered, Bakelants is ready to help the French team across the Ardennes with the 248km Amstel Gold Race his first goal.
"Now, the pain is over and I am about to start the Amstel Gold Race with a lot of confidence," he added. "It will be an important week for us. That is why we built a competitive team for the three following races (Amstel Gold Race / Flèche Wallonne / Liège-Bastogne-Liège)."
Vuillermoz made his Amstel Gold Race debut last year, finishing 54th, and is likely to use the Dutch race as preparation for La Flèche Wallonne where he was sixth in 2015. The former mountainbiker also won the Mur de Huy stage of the Tour de France last year and Bakelants believes his teammate can again triumph on the 'wall'
"I can assure you I will do everything I can to assist Alexis Vuillermoz. He is definitely able to win La Flèche Wallonne," he added.
Vuillermoz enters the race having finished 15th on GC at Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco with fourth place on stage 4 to Orio suggesting the 27-year-old is approaching the Ardennes in good form and condition.
Having missed the cobbled classics due to illness, Alexis Gougeard will make his debut at Amstel Gold Race with two-time Tour de France stage winner Christophe Riblon and recent Paris-Camembert winner Cyril Gautier adding further options for AG2R-La Mondiale.
AG2R-La Mondiale for Amstel Gold Race: Jan Bakelants, Mickaël Chérel, Ben Gastauer, Cyril Gautier, Alexis Gougeard, Matteo Montaguti, Christophe Riblon and Alexis Vuillermoz.