Amstel Gold Race 2012 winner Enrico Gasparotto will be part of a hydra-like multi-headed group of attackers on the Netherland’s premier Classic for the Astana squad, the team’s sports director Stefano Zanini told Cyclingnews on the eve of the race. As Zanini points out, Gasparotto is just one of several contenders in Astana who are capable of waging a strong battle for the Kazakh outfit.
The winner himself of Amstel Gold in 1996, Zanini is convinced of Gasparotto’s chances, pointing out that he “has got the legs and the head and we’ve got a very strong team. Gasparotto, [Jakob] Fuglsang, [Vincenzo] Nibali and [Maxim] Iglinsky” - the winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2012 - are all possible candidates. BMC are very strong collectively, too, but we’ve definitely got our options.”
Amstel Gold was in fact Gasparotto’s last win, back in 2012, but the 32-year-old has never been far off the mark in the one-day hilly Classics before or since. He finished ninth in Amstel last year as well as taking sixth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and fifth in the Tour of Lombardy. On the other side, time-wise, of his biggest Classic win in 2012, Gasparotto also took third in Amstel back in 2010 and in his earliest days as a pro with Liquigas he also netted a fourth and a seventh in the warm-up race for Amstel Gold, the mid-week Brabantse Pijl.
Although the 2012 finish - which was much closer to the summit of the Cauberg than in 2013 or on Sunday - was better for Gasparotto, Zanini nonetheless feels that the change of route could well strengthen the hand of other Astana players. “We’ve got Bozic, too, who can handle that kind of finale very well.”
The former Slovenian national champion Bozic is, indeed, a versatile Classics rider, as his third place in Dwars door Vlaanderen and seventh in E3-Harelbeke in 2014 - as well winning the bunch sprint in Gent-Wevelgem behind Peter Sagan in 2013 and taking ninth in the hilly GP Ouest Plouay - would suggest.
As for Nibali? “He’s our ‘joker’,” Zanini says - and certainly Nibali played that role to perfection in this year’s Milan-San Remo, making a dangerous attack over the Cipressa that lasted until he was on the Poggio.
Last year Nibali raced - and won - the Giro di Trentino en route to the Giro, but with his sights for 2014 set on the Tour de France later in the season, it will be interesting to see how strong Nibali can be in the three Ardennes Classics. (His previous best, for the record, is a second in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2012, sandwiched between - as chance would have it - two of his current Astana teammates and co-contenders tomorrow, Iglinsky and Gasparotto.)
“Last year’s Amstel was a game of poker, with a lot of waiting around and people ended up taking gambles, like [Roman] Kreuziger [Tinkoff-Saxo], and one of them won” Zanini says, “I’m hoping for a much more open race, particularly if it’s a lot windier. Then we’ll be on the attack.”