By Gregor Brown
The Ardennes Classics gets started this Sunday with the 43rd Amstel Gold race, April 20. The race – in Hollands's Valkenburg zone – runs over 257.4 kilometres and is the precursor to La Flèche Wallonne (Wednesday) and the oldest of them all, Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Sunday).
The race marks the transition from pavé races, like Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, to the ones with rolling asphalt roads through the Ardennes region of Belgium and Holland. The pagan goddess Arduinna will watch down on her land as the skinny little men punch and counter-punch for victory, while the hard-men will likely be at home watching on television.
The Amstel Gold Race is the youngest of the seven major Spring Classics and has gained its popularity over the last 15 years thanks to non-Dutch winners. Recent winners include Germany's Stefan Schumacher, Luxembourg's Fränk Schleck and Italy's Danilo Di Luca and Davide Rebellin, while further down in the annals stars like local hero Jan Raas, Belgium's Eddy Merckx and France's Bernard Hinault appear.
The parcours offers fans plenty of opportunity to see the riders go flying by as it repeats many of the climbs throughout its 257.4-kilometre journey from Maastricht to Valkenburg. The roads twist and turn on themselves and favour a local rider with intimate knowledge of the course, which first rolls north before coming back south towards Valkenburg and the start of the 31 bergs.
The 184 riders depart from the Grote Markt at 10:21, head north towards the first climb and then make the turn-back in Geleen. The race will turn back south (climbs Adsteeg and Lange Raarberg), east towards Voerendaal and then back west towards Maastricht. Along the way west the riders will face the Cauberg (climb number six, in Valkenburg) for the first of three times – the second as climb number 21 and the last as the finish.
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Gerolsteiner for Amstel: Johannes Fröhlinger, Andrea Moletta, Davide Rebellin, Ronny Scholz, Stefan Schumacher, Fabian Wegmann, Peter Wrolich and Marcus Zberg.
Lampre for Amstel: Damiano Cunego, Alessandro Ballan, Simon Spilak, Francesco Gavazzi, Marco Marzano, Paolo Tiralongo, Paolo Bossoni and Daniele Righi.
AG2R La Mondiale for Amstel: Rinaldo Nocentini, José Luis Arrieta, Martin Elmiger, Renaud Dion, Julien Loubet, Rene Mandri, Yuriy Krivtsov and Alexandr Pliuschin
Milram for Amstel: Andriy Grivko, Christian Knees, Erik Zabel, Martin Velits, Björn Schröder, Enrico Poitschke, Igor Astarloa and Niki Terpstra.