Van Vleuten and Spratt give Mitchelton-Scott two favourites at Amstel Gold

The Ardennes Classics kick off with Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, and Mitchelton-Scott will line up with two heavy-hitters in Annemiek van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt, both of whom want to win.

"It's no secret that my big target for the first half of the season are the Ardennes races, so I just feel excited and ready for these races to start," Spratt said in a team press release.

In her latest Cyclingnews blog, Van Vleuten also took aim at the Ardennes Classics as one of her biggest targets post-knee injury, and with a special eye on Amstel Gold Race because it's in the Netherlands.

"I think that Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège will probably suit me the best, but Amstel Gold is in the Netherlands, and so it's my 'home' race," Van Vleuten wrote after winning the Women’s WorldTour opener at Strade Bianche.

"Winning there would be extra special. It starts in Maastricht, a city where cycling is growing in popularity, but because of the Amstel Gold Race, it's easy to see how popular men's and women's cycling has become in the whole of the Netherlands. Every year, I see more and more women coming to watch our race and to join in the Amstel Gold experience the day before."

Van Vleuten returned to top form this spring after recovering from a significant knee injury suffered in a crash last September at Worlds. She has admitted that her form is stronger than she expected it to be so early in the season when she won Strade Bianche and then placed second at Tour of Flanders.

Last year, Van Vleuten was 15th at Amstel Gold, fourth at Flèche Wallonne and third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Spratt suffered a head injury in the early season after crashing at Strade Bianche but returned to the peloton to place second at Trofeo Alfredo Binda.

Spratt was third at Amstel Gold last year, fifth at Flèche Wallonne and second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

"All the training and hard work is done now, and I feel like I am a level above what I was this time last year so that gives me a lot of confidence in myself," Spratt said. "I think the strength of our team is also something to be really excited about, and I hope we will be in the final with good numbers so we can play a good tactical game."

Both are worthy leaders for Mitchelton-Scott during the Ardennes Classics, and they will have support from teammates Grace Brown, Gracie Elvin, Lucy Kennedy and Moniek Tennigo.

"Both Annemiek and Spratty have found some good form and they're both targeting the Ardennes classics, so we'll be hoping to score some good results with those two," said the team's director Martin Vestby. "But we also have Lucy Kennedy coming into these races that suit her a lot better, so I think we have a strong team with good climbers."

Amstel Gold Race will offer a challenging 126.8km course on the outskirts of Maastricht. There are 19 climbs with the Zwartebrugweg, Eyserbosweg and the Keutenberg faced before the bunch head onto three local laps centred around the finish on the Cauberg.

The finishing loop consists of three climbs including the Geulhemmerberg (970 metres, gradient 7.9%), the Bemelerberg (900 metres, gradient 7%) and the Cauberg (800 meters, gradient 12%), which will be the final ascent before a short flat run to the finish.

"It's hard to know what to expect, but I know the course off by heart," Van Vleuten said of the Amstel Gold route. "Everyone knows it will be important to be positioned well before the narrow climbs and I think with such a strong team our chances are getting better.

"But first the others will have to suffer, I'm hoping for a race of attrition, not like Flanders when we cruised up every climb. It would be better for us to have an aggressive race on every climb, so the faster riders suffer a bit more."

Likewise, Spratt is expecting a tough race to play out but she believes Mitchelton-Scott will have strength in numbers during the final, and that will play to their advantage.

"I expect an aggressive race that brings us to the final circuits where I think we need to play to our strengths and go for the win," she said. "We don’t have just one rider who can win so the most important thing for me on Sunday will be to create a situation where someone from our team can win."

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