The sun was shining as the riders gathered for the start of the Amstel Gold Race in the central Markt square in Maastricht, and with little wind blowing the many flags in the square, the riders knew they were about to begin yet another classics in near summer like conditions.
The team buses were packed tight around the square. It makes for a chaotic start but allows the public to get close up the riders and ask for autographs and photographs.
Each team was presented on the sign-on stage with Rabobank the last to appear, wearing their special Ride for the Roses' jersey in support of the Dutch event that takes its name from the Texas event promoted by the Livestrong charity.
The 'home team' of the Amstel Gold Race has not won since 2001 and team leaders Robert Gesink, Oscar Freire and Luis Leon Sanchez are under pressure to get a result after the team had an impressive start to the season.
The big favourite they have to beat is 2010 winner Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto). He has been labelled the 'Cancellara of the Ardennes' because he is so strong and hi rivals could resort to marking hi out of the race as happened to Cancellara in the cobbled classics. However Gilbert looked relaxed and ready for anything as he signed on and chatted to Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo) before the start.
Garmin-Cervelo has a solid team with Ryder Hesjedal on form and supported by Christian Vande Velde, David Millar, Dan Lloyd, Michel Kreder and Paris-Roubaix winner Johan Van Summeren. The Katusha team is considered the most dangerous unit with Joaquim Rodriguez, 2009 winner Serguei Ivanov, Danilo Di Luca and Alexandr Kolobnev all capable of winning.
Leopard Trek is also a danger and looking for to land its first major classic with either Schleck bothers, Jens Voigt, Jacob Fuglsang or Fabian Cancellara.
The Amstel Gold Race is Cancellara's last big race of the spring and he hasn't taken part since 2004 but he's looking to produce one last ride before taking a break. Just before the race he tweeted: "260km to go and then is over... First break for a bit. Will do my best today in the race. After i have other race... What i gona go to eat."
Unfortunately for Cancellara there are no fast food outlets on top of the Cauberg. But the winner traditionally gets a glass of Amstel beer. That could be something to aim at and a perfect way to end his spring.
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