Some big names missing, but the Dutch Classic gets underway in Maastricht
The riders gathered under a warm sun in the centre of Maastricht for the start of the 45th edition of the Amstel Gold Race in the southern Limburg region of the Netherlands.
Some of the riders had already faced a race against time and across Europe to be at the start, but most of them made it and were happy to be racing. Chris Horner (RadioShack) seemed to have travelled the furthest, a massive 1800km from Spain, so he could have a shot at victory. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo) and Chris Froome (Team Sky) both drove from Tuscany and Canada's Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) and Xavier Tondo (Cervélo TestTeam) traveled from Girona.
There were some big names who did not make it to the race. The Caisse d'Epargne team only had three riders to start the race: Imanol Erviti, Jose Garcia Acosta and David Lopez. Team leader Alejandro Valverde and UCI ranking leader Luis Leon Sanchez are not in the race after they made the decision not to drive from Spain.
Also missing are Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam), Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky). Cervélo TestTeam started with just five riders, HTC-Columbia only had six riders and Ag2r-La Mondiale had seven. Every other team had eight riders.
In the main square in Maastricht the riders climbed onto the podium team by team. The crowds were huge and the Rabobank team of Robert Gesink and Oscar Freire were greeted with the biggest cheer. A Dutchman has not won the Amstel Gold Race since 2001. Could Gesink do it today?
Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) became a father just a few days before and is wearing his daughter's birth tag on his chain. Watch out for special celebrations if he wins today, although he was involved in an early crash.
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) is riding in support of teammate and Dutchman Karsten Kroon, but could also be a contender. Most teams suggested it was up to Katusha to control the race because the Russian team has a powerful line-up that includes 2009 winner Serguei Ivanov, Filippo Pozzato and Spain's Joaquin Rodriguez.
Any one of them could be first to the top of the final ascent of the Cauberg this afternoon and so win this 45th edition of the Amstel Gold Race.
The Cyclingnews live coverage of the race has already begun. The 257.8 kilometre race is due to finish at approximately 4:45p.m. local time. Cyclingnews will have a full report, images and interviews with the riders in the action immediately after the race.
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