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New finish line in 2013 to result in more definitive selection
Enrico Gasparotto (Pro Team Astana) takes the win
With the cobbled classics done for another year, cycling's attention turns to the festival of the puncheurs, the Ardennes, with the first of the trilogy of one-day spectaculars, Amstel Gold Race this Sunday.
The 48th edition of Amstel Gold Race features a brand new, but familiar finish to the parcours with the 251 kilometres ending with the finale taking place in the same place as last year's UCI Road World Championships, 1.8km on from the Cauberg in Valkenberg. The other change from race organisers includes a finishing circuit including the Geulhemmerberg before the peloton heads towards Maastricht, then an ascent of the Bemerlerberg and the last burn up the Cauberg. The change to the finish means that the parcours cover 33 climbs in 2013, up from the 31 of the last few years. The race should also become far more selective and more difficult.
Wearing the No.1 dossard will be 2012's victor, Enrico Gasparotto (Astana). The Italian's win set off a hot run of form in 2012 with an 11th place at La Flèche Wallonne and then third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He's arguably had a better start to the season than last including a top-five finish and a top-20 finish at Milan-San Remo but will not be the focus in the lead-up to Sunday, with all eyes instead on last year's third-place-getter, Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
The 23-year-old will race Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday but prior to that was last seen at the Tour of Flanders, where he was runner-up before choosing to sit out Roubaix. Make no mistake, this race is his to lose.
Last year's runner-up, Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol) was forced out of the Vuelta al País Vasco with illness but will be on the start line in Maastricht.
The form of two-time winner Philippe Gilbert (2010, 2011) is questionable particularly in comparison to two years ago, but there is no doubt that he is suited just as well to the new finish line given he won his world title on the spot. Like Sagan, Gilbert will race Brabantse Pijl as a final warm-up before Amstel, though he used Pais Vasco as preparation, foregoing Flanders. One BMC rider whose form is solid however is that of Greg Van Avermaet. The 27-year-old is yet to finish better than 24th in the one day race but performing well is something that he has targeted providing a credible second card for BMC to play.
Disappointing in 2012, by the time the Ardennes rolled around after a strong start to the season, Orica GreenEdge's Simon Gerrans will look to improve on his third place in 2011 and seventh in 2009 off the back of his recent stage wins at Catalunya and Pais Vasco.
Run down by Oscar Gatto (Vini Fantini - Selle Italia) in the finale of Dwars door Vlaanderen, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was fifth at Amstel in 2012 and is still searching for his first victory of the season, and can be expected at the very least to animate the race.