AMSTEL GOLD PREVIEW
The second act of the spring classics starts this Sunday (April 22) with the Amstel Gold race. The Dutch classic, that winds it's way around the hilly Limburg region in the south of the Netherlands is the eighth round of the UCI ProTour but signals a shift in emphasis.
After the bergs and beer of the cobbled classics that are dominated by the strong men of Northern Europe, the diminutive climbers now head north to take over the racing.
Local favourite Michael Boogerd will be looking for another win in the 252km event. The 31 short sharp climbs, with the finish at the top of the final Cauberg, provide the perfect terain for the Dutchman, and the likes of Alessandro Valverde and Paolo Bettini.
Boogerd recently announced his retirement at the end of the year, and will want to add to his 1999 win, and rub out the memories of his five other podium positions.
2006 winner Frank Schleck (CSC) will start the race wearing number one and is again expected to be a contender after riding consistently well in the recent Tour of the Basque Country. Other favourites include Spain’s Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne), who after his double success in Fleche-Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne last year, is back for more. Valverde was quiet during the Tour of the Basque Country and didn't win a stage, but used the race to find his best for form for the big week of his spring campaign.
Another rider who impressed in the Basque country was overall winner Juan Jose Cobo (Saunier Duval). He came from nowhere to win two stages and beat Angel Vicioso (Relax-Gum) and should have held his form for Ardennes week. Fellow Spaniards Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) and Oscar Freire will also be out to impress.
With Tom Boonen and his team mates miss-firing in Flanders and Roubaix, it will be up to world champion Paolo Bettini to come up with a result for Quick Step. Few Italians have ever won the Amstel Gold race, but Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) are worth an each-way bet, while German Patrik Sinkewitz leads T-Mobile, the in-form team of the last few weeks.
We will be posting up a report from the event as soon as the riders cross the line.
Official race website: www.amstelgoldrace.nl
Current ProTour standings:
1. Stuart O'Grady (CSC) 79
2. Oscar Freire (Rabobank) 77
3. Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) 62
4. Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) 58
5. Juan Jose Cobo (Saunier Duval) 57
6. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) 57
7. Andreas Klöden (Astana) 53
8. Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) 50
9. Roger Hammond (T-Mobile) 45
10. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel - Euskadi) 45