Philippe Gilbert’s victory at Brabantse Pijl has marked him out as the favourite for Amstel Gold Race but the BMC rider has also identified Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) as men to watch at the Ardennes Classics.
“Valverde and Kwiatkowski are, to my mind, the big favourites for the next three races based on what they have shown so far,” Gilbert said, according to La Dernière Heure. “They climb well, they’re fast in the sprint and they can also rely on very solid teams.”
Valverde has a strong record in the Ardennes classics, landing a brace of wins at Liège-Bastogne-Liège (2006 and 2008) and winning Flèche Wallonne in 2006. Kwiatkowski, meanwhile, was hugely impressive in dispatching of Peter Sagan in the finale of Strade Bianche last month, and Gilbert feels the Pole is part of an emerging generation of talent capable of winning on hilltop finishes.
“[Joaquim] Rodriguez and I were practically the only two specialists but some young riders have come to join that battle and that’s normal,” Gilbert said. “The competition on this particular terrain is much sharper now. The list of contenders for Sunday is long because a lot of riders are capable of winning this race.”
As a consequence, Gilbert insisted that it would not be BMC’s sole responsibility to control the Sunday's Amstel Gold Race in the lead-in to the final ascent of the Cauberg. The Belgian, who won the race in 2010 and 2011 also stressed that he was taking nothing for granted about his own chances.
“I’ve been in the pro peloton for twelve years now and I know that one of the errors you must never commit is to be under-estimate your adversaries. Even when everything was coming off for me in 2011, I never allowed myself to stay that I was certain to win a race before the start. I know that I’m well and that I can sleep more calmly, but the most difficult is yet to come.”