The Ardennes Classics are right around the corner! They are my next big targets, after Tirreno-Adriatico, and I’m looking forward to taking on the three days of racing at the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
I’m feeling good about my form after finishing well in Tirreno-Adriatico. It was seven days of racing at the WorldTour level and I think that it went really well. Nairo Quintana was strong on the uphill finish of the fifth stage in Terminillo but I finished second and I think that’s a good result for being so early in the season. I don’t think I’ve ever been in better shape in March, so that was good and I was happy with that.
Placing second in the overall gave me a lot of confidence, too, because of the riders who were there. Not only Quintana, but also Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, Dan Martin, Rigoberto Urán and Thibaut Pinot… a lot of riders who will also be at the Tour de France in July. The parcours had a stage with short climbs and a stage that had a 16-kilometre uphill finish, which are characteristics of the Tour. I’m happy that I could fight with those riders for a podium and then beat most of them. It gives me motivation to work even harder over the next few months to try and keep this level, and get better toward the Tour de France.
I will have another opportunity to compete in a WorldTour stage race at Pais Vasco, and I think that race will provide me with some good preparation for the Ardennes Classics. In fact, I think that most of the riders who you will see racing in the Ardennes will also be in the Basque Country. That’s because there are a lot of steep climbs in that region of Spain and I think that the parcours is held on, more or less, similar terrain of the Ardennes. Pais Vasco is a race that I always enjoy because there are very enthusiastic people along the roads and it’s just a really nice race to do.
During Pais Vasco in 2010, I remember pulling for Oscar Freire the whole day in the third stage, and in the finale I got dropped on the climb up Alto de Mendeika. I finished last on this stage and almost 15 minutes behind but I remember the people were still waiting for me and supporting me on the last climb. They also knew my name, even though at this point in my career I was not very well known. The Basque people really know all the riders.
I was also on the podium in the 2012 edition of the race. It’s always nice to get a good result in a race like that. But even though I hope to perform well, it’s more important to be strong afterward, and use that race to fine-tune my form for Amstel, Flèche and Liège.
This is the fourth season that I’ve done the Ardennes and it’s my objective to be good in all three races. I like all three of them but if I had to say which one I liked the most then I would say that it’s Amstel Gold because it’s in Holland, where I’m from, and usually it’s the only race that I do in Holland. It’s a good race for me because I know the parcours really well… it’s not close to my home city, Leeuwarden, but Holland is not too big so I know all the roads. My family, friends and a lot of people that I know will be there, and that’s what makes it very special to me.
As for the other two, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is probably a little bit more important internationally and it’s one of the five Monuments. It’s also the hardest because the climbs are longer than they are in Amstel. Last year, I was fourth in Flèche Wallonne and it’s a special finish with the Mur de Huy. You normally have to wait and save your energy all day and try to be as fresh as possible for the last kilometre because the finish is really explosive. You need explosiveness on that climb.
My specific training for the Ardennes was doing really long rides from six to seven hours to get ready for the distance, especially for Amstel and Liège, which are nearly 260 kilometres. There aren’t many races that are that long. You have to have really good endurance and be fresh after 250 kilometres in order to be able to get a result. That’s part of what makes them special and sometimes harder than other races. I’ve also been doing really short efforts because the climbs in Amstel are about one kilometre and the climbs in Liège are maybe five kilometres max.
My team will have a very strong roster for the three races this year with Fränk Schleck, Bob Jungels, Julián Arredondo and Fabio Felline, who is also in good shape. I’m really, really looking forward to that week of racing.
I appreciate the Ardennes Classics because when it comes to the classics, in general, there aren’t too many for GC riders like me (along with Il Lombardia and San Sebastián, which are also good classics for me). The Ardennes gives us three hilly courses within one week. There is also a really good atmosphere amongst the peloton during that week and the races are really popular for the people who follow cycling.
See you in the Ardennes!