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Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol Team )
Ardennes more important than Tour de France for Lotto Belisol leader
The Belgian finished runner-up to Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) in the thrilling finale atop the Cauberg in 2012, a result in itself which still surprises the Tour de France stage winner.
"If you had told me last year at the outset that I was going to beat Gilbert and Sagan, I would have been happy," Vanendert explained at the team’s press conference on Friday. "I'm gone before the finish line, but in the end, I was disappointed because I really came close to victory; Gasparotto surprised me."
Vanendert abandoned the Vuelta al País Vasco earlier this month with an inflamed oesophagus, forcing him to miss key lead up race Brabantse Pijl this week. Team manager Marc Sergeant maintains that "Jelle is ready for Amstel" having been treated accordingly and recovered.
"It really has not been an ideal preparation with these race days less, but I tried to compensate with efforts behind the scooter," Vanendert explained. "In training, I had a really good feeling. I hope that will be enough; I want to be there in the final. Because for me, the Ardennes is even more important than the Tour de France. "
The 28-year-old believes that with this year’s finish line 1800 metres further up the road, more riders will be in contention at the foot of the Cauberg than previously, but stated only around 10 riders can actually be in position for victory.
"It suits me less," Vanendert conceded. "Now on there will many more riders will be able to fight for victory, but the favourites remain the same: Peter Sagan and Philippe Gilbert."
For this reason, Vanendert told the media that in order to actually win on Sunday, he would need to be riding the final metres to the finish line on his own.