Team Belkin starts its assault on the Ardennes classics this Sunday in front of home fans at the 49th Amstel Gold Race. The Dutch team will enter the 251km race which includes 34 climbs and four ascents of the Cauberg, with Bauke Mollema as its leader.
For Mollema, it is the "best race of the year" and having proven that he can mix it at the pointy end of the race with two consecutive tenth placings, the 27-year-old has stated his aim is to crack the top five in 2014.
"The Amstel is perhaps the best race of the year for a Dutchman. The fans show up in large numbers and they are very enthusiastic," said Mollema.
"If I finish tenth again, I won’t be in a jubilant mood. Last year, I often finished between the fifth and tenth place in the Walloon classics. It would be nice to get a top five this year.
"After Niki Terpstra's victory in Paris-Roubaix, I think things will be extra special. After our success in last year’s Tour de France, people will be excited to see us race as well. It could become a wonderful edition. As a team, we hope to provide the people with a good result."
Mollema has been preparing for the three Ardennes Classics - Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, by racing several stage races. The latest being the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, which included fifth place on stage 5, where he improved as the race went on
"During the final stages, I gained a lot of confidence. I finished fifth in a mountain stage with an uphill finish and one day later, I was in a break until very late in a tough stage. It proves that my condition is fine and that I'm at my level. I'm really looking forward to Sunday."
"I like the new finish, it makes the race more open because now you can also attack after the Cauberg. Last year it wasn't in my favour, as I arrived at the top of the Cauberg in fifth position, while I ended up tenth at the line. Next time, it could well be the other way round, though."
Belkin will enter the race with a squad capable of controlling the peloton and delivering Mollema to the base of the Cauberg in a good position to fight for the win.
The team will be unable to call upon the services of Robert Gesink with the Dutchman announcing that he will temporarily stop racing due to repeated cardiac arrhythmia episodes.
"We haven’t won the Amstel for a long time and we won’t be the biggest favourite on Sunday, but we are one hundred per cent motivated and will do whatever we can," said Sports Director Frans Maassen who won the race in 1991.
"Bauke is our captain. Paul Martens and Lars Petter Nordhaug also have a free role. We have guys with knowledge of the course and experience and we really want to show ourselves. We want to compete for the win."
Belkin for Amstel Gold Race: Laurens ten Dam, Jos van Emden, Jonathan Hivert, Paul Martens, Bauke Mollema, Lars Petter Nordhaug, Bram Tankink and David Tanner.