He may have chosen to enjoy a quieter start to the year and with it deny himself the opportunity to win a second Milan-San Remo but Simon Gerrans said from the start the Ardennes Classics would be one of his major targets for the year. With just days before the start of the first of three classics, Amstel Gold Race presents the former Australian national champion with his first shot at glory and he could just be in the condition to contest the win come Sunday.
Gerrans has picked up three wins this year starting with a relieving stage victory atop Willunga Hill at the Santos Tour Down Under and while he was unable to defend the title he won in 2012 - due to illness suffered earlier in the week - he made up for his inability to win the race for a third time by taking out the queen stage ahead of Tom Jelte-Slagter. It was also a day for the Australian fans who flock to Adelaide each year to celebrate a little harder and later into the night with the Willunga stage held on Australia Day.
Now, with just a few days left before the start of an eight-day, three-race campaign that includes Amstel, Flèche Wallonne and Liège - Bastogne - Liège Gerrans says he's as motivated as ever to take to the top step of the race that has delivered a third-place before - in 2011 when a dominant Philippe Gilbert begun his clean sweep of the Ardennes classics.
"Our team for Amstel raced together at Pais Vasco," said Gerrans on his team site. "We took two stage wins and helped Pieter Weening earn sixth overall. These were good results made possible with some really good teamwork, and it shows that the whole team is racing at a high level. Last year, several of the riders we brought for the Ardennes were racing them for the first time. This year, everybody has that much more experience under their belt. Simply knowing what to expect will allow us to race at a better level."
The race that is headline-sponsored by a beer company has been relatively successful for Gerrans over the years. His most recent result from 2012, 20th was in fact his worst showing with seventh in 2009 and third in 2011 providing a better indication of how Gerrans should perform at the end of the 251km race.
Last year he started the season with a bang. Winning the Australian road national title, winning Down Under, an oh-so-close second-place on Stage 3 at Paris-Nice and finally becoming the second Australian in as many years to win San Remo left him fatigued by the time the hillier classics begun but this year his form appears to have been timed to perfection.
"Typically, this is a race of attrition. It gets harder and harder and faster and faster as the day goes on, and with each new difficulty, the front group becomes more and more select. The strongest guys on the day are left to contest the win," said Gerrans.
"I’m super motivated for this race. I’ve done well at Amstel Gold in the past, and I know I can do well here again. My goal is to go out there and win, and we have the team to do that this year," he added.
Adding an Ardennes victory to his trio of grand tour wins would be a dream for the Australian but with changes to Amstel's finish pushing the line an additional 1,200m down the road the race's finale could play out very differently to past editions.
"The final part of Amstel Gold has been changed this year. Instead of finishing on the Cauberg, the race now finishes 1200 metres beyond the top of the climb. The road race at the Road World Championships last year featured this finish, but Amstel Gold features much more climbing than last year’s Worlds course. It’s hard to predict how the finish can and will change the way the race unfolds," he said.