By Gregor Brown in Belgium
Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Prodir) is returning to racing after nearly a month off. Today, he will line-up in the 42nd Amstel Gold after having last successfully appeared in the Coppi e Bartali, where he won the final stage against the likes of Danilo Di Luca and Michele Scarponi.
He will once again face a field of challengers, like 2005 winner Di Luca, when he lines up for the first time in the Dutch one-day classic. He reckons he can't win the race but he aims to be at the front.
"I will take on Amstel for the first time, with the intentions of finding my rhythm," the 23 year-old said to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I feel good and relaxed. If I am able to stay up front it is for certain my breaks will not be holding me back." Riccò will also line-up in the Flèche Wallonne (Wednesday) and the Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Sunday, April 29th). He figures he chances are better on the steep slopes of the Mur de Huy.
"I am aiming for the Flèche Wallonne. It is better adapted for me. I have never raced it but Monday and Tuesday I will go to try the Mur de Huy," he continued. "The fans push me on and give me confidence. I like to ride in an attacking style, to give cycling a show, something that it is has been missing.
"Wait for me on the Mur de Huy," he advised his fans of the 1300 metre climb, which has gradients between 14 and 19%, and the upper part tops out near 25%. "Valverde, who won last year, will be the favourite. Then, I also think that there will be Samuel Sánchez, Boogerd, Di Luca, and Rebellin. I want to also be there with them."
Joining Riccò for the last two of the Ardennes Classics will be two-time Giro d'Italia winner Gilberto Simoni. His teammate is building his form for a third run at the Corsa Rosa title, and Riccò plans to be there right at his side.
Over the last two weeks "we tried some of the stages. Tre Cime, Zoncolan, Oropa and the Verona time trial, on the penultimate day. What everybody says is true, the Zoncolan is very scary. The Oropa mountain time trial, even though short, will make some selection. And the Verona time trial is not for specialists, there are some hard bits adapted for us climbers; Basso will not be able to make huge advantages."
His captain is currently racing in the Tour of Georgia but plans on flying back for Wednesday's Classic. Riccò believes Simoni is prepared to win. "I have seen him very concentrated," he said of Simoni, who finished fifth on Friday's Brasstown Bald stage. "He is stronger than the last years, because he knows that this maybe the last big occasion for a triple. At his side, I am convinced I will have a great race."
Cyclingnews will bring you live coverage and race reports from all three of the Ardennes Classics.