Dutch riders preparing for the Amstel Gold Race
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dutch riders preparing for the Amstel Gold Race

by Ben Atkins at 1:16 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Amstel Gold Race
Robert Gesink looking to improve on ninth in 2011; Michel Kreder preparing for Cauberg’s uphill sprint

robert gesinkThe Netherlands’ biggest riders are preparing for the country’s biggest one day race, the Amstel Gold Race, which will take place in just over two weeks time. The race, which dates back to 1966, is the first in the three-race “Ardennes-Classics” series - with la Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège - and this year’s edition is to take in 31 climbs in the Limburg region in the south of the country, including the finish at the top of Valkenburg’s famous Cauberg.

The Netherlands’ current biggest name, Rabobank’s Robert Gesink, is one who is targeting the race. Having finished in ninth place, some 19 seconds behind an unstoppable Philippe Gilbert, the 25-year-old is looking to become the home nation’s first winner since Erik Dekker - his current directeur sportif - won in 2001, and to be the first Dutchman to win at the current Cauberg finish.

“I'm going in fully ready for the Amstel Gold Race,” promised the Rabobank rider. “I’m aiming to improve on my position from last year.”

Supporting Gesink’s bid for victory will be most of Rabobank’s climbing talent, in the form of Bauke Mollema and Steven Kruijswijk. Lars Boom, Matti Breschel, Bram Tankink and Paul Martens. Carlos Barredo was originally named in the team but, having suffered a broken arm in his bizarre collision with Fabian Cancellara in last week’s E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, the Spanish rider will be replaced by either Maarten Tjallingii, Laurens Ten Dam, Michael Matthews or Stef Clement.

One of the year’s outstanding Dutchman so far is Garmin-Barracuda’s Michel Kreder, whose 2012 results include two stages and second place overall in the Tour Méditerranéen, and fifth place in the Nokere Koerse. The American team will be putting its faith in the emerging 24-year-old on the winding Limburg course, according to manager Jonathan Vaughters.

“He is comfortable on narrow technical roads, deals well with crosswinds and, bearing in mind the finish on the Cauberg, should do well in an uphill sprint,” said the American.

As well as Kreder, Garmin-Barracuda will be supporting the climbing talent of Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, with a team made up of Thomas Dekker, Martijn Maaskant, Nathan Haas, Daniel Martin and Fabian Wegmann. Britain’s David Millar was originally down to ride, but will be another likely injury absentee after breaking his collarbone in the E3 Prijs.

Foreign contenders also ready for the hilly Dutch test

damiano cunegoWhile the Dutch will be vying to take their home race for the first time since 2001, there will be plenty of foreigners out to stop them, including 2008 race winner Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD). The 30-year-old from Verona enjoyed a resurgence of his career in 2011, including sixth place in the Tour de France, and, after strong performances in Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya, is hoping to continue that momentum in 2012.

“This year I'm going to give my best in the Ardennes and in the Amstel Gold Race,” Cunego confirmed.

Cunego will be able to call upon a strong Lampre-ISD team, which will include last year’s Giro d’Italia Michele Scarponi, along with Leonardo Bertagnolli, Matteo Bono, Mathew Lloyd, Przemyslaw Niemiec, Morris Possoni and Diego Ulissi.

Despite having won both la Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the past, it’s almost surprising that Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has never done better than third in Amstel Gold, which he took behind Cunego in 2008, the year of his most recent Liège victory.

Having missed the 2010 edition due to the erupting Icelandic volcano [and he woudl have been retrospectively disqualified anyway - ed] and sitting out last year’s race through suspension, the Spaniard is looking to take on the favourites this time.

“Last year Philippe Gilbert was clearly the best rider in the world,” he said. “I expect a battle in the Ardennes classics and Amstel, so it will be feast for the spectators.”

As usual, Valverde will be supported by the strongest Movistar team possible, with Italian champion Giovanni Visconti, Imanol Erviti, Rui Costa, Vasil Kiryienka, Ignatas Konovalovas, Ruben Plaza, and José Joaquín Rojas.

The 2012 edition of the Amstel Gold Race will start on Sunday, April 15th, in the main Markt in the regional capital Maastricht, and finish at the top of the Cauberg, 256.5km and 31 climbs later. Much of the course will be used in the World championship road race on September 21st-23rd, which will finish 1.7km past the top of the Cauberg.


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