Back to part one: Cycling Weekly’s Amstel Gold Race 2008 preview

OUR TOP 10 FAVOURITES

Unlike the dozens of generic previews out there, we stick our heads on the block and rank our favourites. How many of our men will be in the top ten on Sunday afternoon?

1 Alejandro Valverde

Spain / Caisse d?Epargne
Last five years (2003-2007): ? / ? / 13th / 23rd / 6th
Unibet.com?s odds to win: 7.00
In his favour: An uphill sprint is made for Valverde ? the most complete example of a sprinting climber, or climbing sprinter depending how you look at it, in modern cycling. Obviously has decent form as he won Paris-Camembert in the week.
Against: Tends to use Amstel as a final tune up, peaking instead for Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Patently not as good as he was in the spring of 2006. And, having missed the Tour of the Basque Country, has he done enough racing?

2 Kim Kirchen

Luxembourg / High Road
Last five years: 88th / 100th / 11th / 60th / 14th
Unibet.com?s odds to win: 12.00
In his favour: Red hot at the Tour of the Basque Country, where he won two stages. We?ve got a good feeling about him for Amstel Gold this year.
Against: A mediocre showing in this race in the past. A flimsy looking team.

3 Davide Rebellin

Italy / Gerolsteiner
Last five years: 4th / 1st / 4th / 6th / 2nd
Unibet.com?s odds to win: 7.50
In his favour: An excellent record here. Always good during this week, he?ll be a big player in all three races. Tactically very astute. Never in trouble, never out of position. A very strong team, with Schumacher and Wegmann as first-class back-up. Of the three, perhaps Amstel represents his best chance because it?s the least steep finish.
Against: Although he?s not showing signs of slowing down at the age of 36, he?s not as electrifying as he was. Had to ride with his head, rather than his legs, to win Paris-Nice.

4 Thomas Dekker

Netherlands / Rabobank
Unibet.com?s odds to win: 14.00
Last five years: ? / ? / 33rd / 19th / 12th
In his favour: Home advantage, fervent support from drunken Dutchmen
Against: Pressure. He?s the natural successor to Michael Boogerd here, and he?ll be marked very tightly.

5 Frank Schleck

Luxembourg / CSC
Unibet.com?s odds to win: 12.00
Last five years: 100th / 66th / 97th / 1st / 10th
In his favour: Form bubbling nicely. Knows how to launch the late attack, as he did in 2006.
Against: Probably wants Liège-Bastogne-Liège more. Won?t be let off the leash by the other favourites so will have to work hard for it.

6 Robert Gesink

Netherlands / Rabobank
Last five year: ? / ? / ? / ? / ?
Unibet.com?s odds to win: 25.00
In his favour: Brilliant climber. Could be Rabobank?s decoy.
Against: Is the Cauberg steep enough for him to make the difference? Little experience of the course.

7 Damiano Cunego

Italy / Lampre
Unibet.com?s odds to win: 7.50
Last five years: ? / ? / ? / ? / ?
In his favour: Roaring form after winning a stage in the Basque Country. Usually skips Amstel and Flèche to ride the Tour of Trentino. This year he?s taking the full Ardennes medicine and it may pay off in Liège a week on Sunday.
Against: Doesn?t know the route ? and at Amstel, with its hills, twists and turns, speed humps and street furniture, it?s more important here than anywhere else this coming week.

8 Stefan Schumacher

Germany / Gerolsteiner
Unibet.com?s odds to win: 13.00
Last five years: ? / ? / 15th / 9th / 1st
In his favour: Won last year.
Against: Apart from the startlingly-shaped head, of course? Not pinging like he was last year. Seems to be off the boil and may play second fiddle to Rebellin.

9 Riccardo Ricco

Italy / Saunier Duval
Unibet.com?s odds to win: 10.00
Last five years: ? / ? / ? / ? / 9th
In his favour: Fancied by the bookies but it?s hard to see what they?re basing that on. Will like the uphill finish.
Against: Had an average Tour of the Basque Country and was lying 15th overall, but decided not to race the final stage.

10 Karsten Kroon

Netherlands / CSC
Unibet.com?s odds to win:
Last five years: ? / 46th / 39th / 4th / 31st
In his favour: Another rider on home soil.
Against: Likely to work for Frank Schleck and will probably be sacrificed in a move at the beginning of the end of the race, 30k from home, perhaps. Always in the mix but so often comes up short.

DARK HORSES
Maxime Montfort Cofidis ? young Belgian who is getting better all the time. Loves the hills. Was fifth at the Tour of the Basque Country.

Mikel Astarloza Euskaltel ? takes on team leadership duties in the absence of the man who never races, Samuel Sanchez. Outside bet for the top 10.

Joaquin Rodriguez Caisse d?Epargne ? won the ludicrously silly uphill finish at Tirreno-Adriatico so the Cauberg will feel like someone?s driveway after that

Oscar Freire Rabobank ? always does okay here. Eighth last year, but the podium is probably out of reach

Erik Zabel Milram ? not had a look-in since the finish moved to the Cauberg. It?s not being cruel to suggest that the move to the top of the hill was a direct result of Zabel?s win

Igor Astarloa Milram ? this guy was world champion once you know. We?ll eat a kilo of Leerdammer cheese if he wins here

Fabian Wegmann Gerolsteiner ? the German team?s joker, not in the sense that he knows some good jokes, but in the sense that if they watch Rebellin and Schumacher too much he could spring an upset

Rinaldo Nocentini Ag2r ? the French team will be completely under-rated but in this Italian rider and Tadej Valjavec they have enough to be a factor.

Sandy Casar Française des Jeux ? will be the top man on the team. Philippe Gilbert?s Het Volk win feels a long time ago now

THE BRITS
David Millar will be number 217 for Slipstream-Chipotle. Can we count Barloworld?s Chris Froome yet? The Kenyan also holds a British passport and has declared he will represent Great Britain from now on. Paul Manning is in Landbouwkrediet’s team.

BRITS AT AMSTEL

All the top 20 finishes by British riders at the Amstel Gold Race

3rd
Malcolm Elliott 1987
Read about how Elliott was turned over by the Dutch in Cycling Weekly Classic

4th
Joey McLoughlin 1986

15th
Barry Hoban 1971

18th
Graham Jones 1979

19th
Max Sciandri 1997

NO BOOGERD ? SO WHO WILL THE DUTCH BACK?

The safest bet in cycling over the past decade was to back Michael Boogerd to finish on the podium at the Amstel Gol Race.

The former Rabobank rider rode the race 12 times. He was in the top 10 every year from 1998 until his final crack at it last spring.

But he had only one win, in 1999. Now he?s retired the Dutch must find a new hero.

So who will it be?

THE DUTCH: Thomas Dekker, Robert Gesink, Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Maarten Tjallingi (Silence-Lotto), Karsten Kroon (CSC), Niki Terpstra (Milram), Maarten Den Bakker, Floris Goesinnen, Tom Veelers (Skil-Shimano), Martijn Maaskant (Slipstream)
HONORARY DUTCH: Oscar Freire (Rabobank)

Boogerd?s Amstel record
1996 ? 67th
1997 ? 47th
1998 ? 4th
1999 ? 1st
2000 ? 2nd
2001 ? 9th
2002 ? 3rd
2003 ? 2nd
2004 ? 2nd
2005 ? 2nd
2006 ? 3rd
2007 ? 5th

EXTERNAL LINK
Official Amstel Gold Race website