The hilly classics began in earnest as the riders lined up in Maastricht for the start of the Amstel Gold Race. Seven former champions were present, including three-time and defending champion Philippe Gilbert. Other previous winners on show were Roman Kreuziger (2013), Enrico Gasparotto (2012), Damiano Cunego (2008), Stefan Schumacher (2007), Frank Schleck (2006) and Davide Rebellin (2004).
Gilbert is the hot favourite as he looks to add yet another victory to his to Cauberg scrapbook and he will have the backing of a strong BMC team. Going up against him will be the likes of world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) and Daniel Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) if he wants to take victory.
On a sunny, but chilly morning in Maastricht, Cyclingnews caught up with many of the big contenders and a few who are hoping to cause an upset.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
“All of these three are good for me and just winning one makes your entire week,” Valverde told Cyclingnews on Sunday morning, “I’ve never won Amstel but I’m not fussy about which!”
Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin)
“We’ve got as strong a team as any in this race and the same goes for the whole week. It’s exciting to be a part of,” Martin told Cyclingnews. “I’m training really well and I feel good. Hopefully I’m here in a good place. It’s a bit nerve wracking coming into these races because you don’t know where you are and anything can happen. Especially when you put in so much in training but hopefully lady luck will be shining on us this year."
“The thing with these one-day races is that you have to see how everybody else races. We got a few guys who can do well and that’s important in these races. It’s different in Liege and Fleche, which are a bit more predictable, this race nobody really knows. It could come down to the Cauberg but then it might not. We’ve got a few options to play but that involves missing all the road furniture and then you assess what you’ve got in the last 40k.”
Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo)
“I’ve been almost a month without racing but I think that I did a good training camp and now it depends how it goes in the race. I think we have a good group here but of course the classics are one-day races and you never know how things will go, we’ve done our best and hopefully we can show it on the road,” Kreuziger told Cyclingnews.
“Michael (Valgren) is not the guy who needs to go away alone because he is fast, so maybe in a small group he can do well. He was sick in Catalunya, but he is a young and promising guy. Maybe not today but for sure in the future he can win this race.”
Samuel Sanchez (BMC)
“After the Vuelta al País Vasco, both me and Philippe are in good shape, and we’ll try and do our best here - which in Philippe’s case, means winning a fourth time."
“I think the Cauberg is going to be decisive, putting that extra section at the top means riders tend to play it very cautiously and wait for the last climb. Plus it’s a warm, dry day, no wind, so it could be a very similar race to last year. Philippe’s the favourite, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. He’s won three times here and I’ve won several times on the same finish in some races, too. It’s like I told him yesterday, sometimes you’re so closely watched as a favourite it’s much harder to make your move.”
Iwan Spekenbrink (Giant-Alpecin general manager)
“Every chance that you have you have to try and make the most of it. (Tom Dumoulin) should aim high as an athlete, but the reality is that this race is also part of a development process of course so there is also a global plan behind so it is important that he sees what it is like to ride a final here, what the sensations are and to take in all the information that he can use a year later when he is stronger,” Spekenbrink told Cyclingnews.
“There is a big group of favourites here who have shown results in those classics and that’s a step that he needs to take. If he goes with a group over the Cauberg, he is quite quick but not so quick so he could go for a sprint in a small group and get an honourable result. The moment that the race is torn apart, where there is only two or three guys, that will be more difficult for us.
Frank Schleck (Trek Factory Racing)
“I think the team is very strong we hope to have a hard race and a nice result in the end. I’m feeling ok, I had an injury that took longer to recover than I thought but today the most important thing is to have a good result with the team. I have a lot of experience in this race so I know the race pretty well and I can help as much as possible. We’ll see in the final how everything goes,” he said to Cyclingnews as he lined up for the start.
“With Fabio Felline we have one big leader who can go fast in the in the sprint. I think that the goal today will be to win but it depends on how the race goes. It’s not up to us to do the race. I think other teams have more pressure than we have here, we have to follow, see how the race develops and see what happens.”
Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty-Groupe Gobert)
“It is completely different (to 2012), because the hardest climbs arrive too early in the race. For sure the race will explode in the last lap on the Cauberg. For sure, I prefer the old course,” Gasparotto said to Cyclingnews after signing on.
“I think that I have trained really well and I’ve arrived at this race in good condition. Everything has gone the way I wanted so I’m really relaxed because more than other years I have done everything that I can. I just want to do my best and I’ve already shown that my best is winning Amstel so I’m here to try and do it again. I just have to follow the big names. The responsibility of the race is not on our shoulders so I’ve just got to stay with the big riders and stay with them on the line.”
Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling)
“Amstel is my last race before I take a break,” Elmiger says at the Amstel Gold start, “we’re starting with just six guys today because two of our guys are not able to take part [Dries Devenyns and Thomas Dagand] because of sickness, so it’s up to us to do as best we can. Breaks, or whatever.”
“Personally, this isn’t my biggest goal, that was Roubaix or Flanders, but my condition has been very good, ever since Catalunya, and we’ll see what we can do, both me and [co-leader] Sylvain Chavanel.”
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