Team Barloworld's season kicks into another gear next week as it rides Amstel Gold Race (April 16), Fleche-Wallonne (April 19) and Liege-Bastogne-Liege (April 23). The team has been invited to these races as a result of strong early-season performances, and former world champion Igor Astarloa getting ready to lead the team in the hilly one-day races. After winning Fleche-Wallonne in 2003, Astarloa went on to win the world road race title later that year in Hamilton, Canada - but it's been slim pickings since then for the Spaniard.
"Going back to Belgium is always nice because the roads and race routes really suit my style of racing and are where I can definitely do well," said Astarloa. "I hope that, like in 2003, the spring classics give me good luck for the rest of the season," he added. Personally, Astarloa hasn't had the best start to 2006, explaining that, "To tell the truth, I haven't got rid of all my bad luck - at both Tirreno-Adriatico and Criterium International I could have done better, but I know it's important to be optimistic."
Astarloa enjoys all three Ardennes classics. "When you're really motivated all three races are special," he says. Astarloa goes into this year's editions of each with a positive outlook and greater motivation than in previous years. "I've got special memories of Fleche-Wallonne but I also really love Liege-Bastogne-Liege," he says. "Amstel Gold is also special because I know the organiser Leo Van Vliet very well. He helped me a lot when I had some problems during last season and for that reason I really want to do well in Holland."