Amstel Gold Race 2013: Who will win?
Escape group, Amstel Gold Race 2012
With the cobbles now a distant memory, the first of the Ardennes Classics kicks off this weekend with the Amstel Gold Race, a 250-kilometre slog across 34 climbs in the Netherlands on Sunday (April 14).
A potential repeat of this week's clash of the titans at Brabantse Pijl, between Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale), means the finish of the 2013 Amstel Gold will no doubt be a brutal event.
Last year's winner Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) was injured after colliding with a truck during training on Thursday, likely ruling him out of a repeat victory.
We take a look at some of the likely contenders for the win.
Peter Sagan, 23, Cannondale
Aside from engaging in podium controversies, Sagan has had a hugely successful spring on the bike finishing in the top two of every one-day race he's ridden this year. With form like that, the Slovak goes into this weekend's race as the man to beat. His win in Wednesday's Brabantse-Pijl, where he was outnumbered and still outsprinted Philippe Gilbert, showed he's lost none of his ability after being beaten comprehensively by Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders.
Philippe Gilbert, 30, BMC Racing
Since winning the rainbow jersey last September, Gilbert has failed to gain a single victory in 2013. Good news for the Belgian though, is that the organisers decided to move the Amstel finish line to the exact same spot where he last won, at the World Championships Road Race. The race and its route is familiar ground for Gilbert, he took the win here in 2011 on his way to completing the Ardennes treble, and he'll be unlikely to want to experience being on Sagan's back wheel as he rides over the line again.
Simon Gerrans, 32, Orica-GreenEdge
A disappointing 20th was not how last year's Amstel was meant to end for Gerrans. The result was all the more disappointing considering his third place in 2011, and as it followed his huge win at the 2012 Milan San-Remo. Taking no chances, the eight-man Australian team has already proved they can deliver success following two stage wins together this year, including one for Gerrans, at the Basque Country.
Joaquim Rodriquez, 33 Katusha
The 2012 WorldTour leader has started strongly in 2013. An impressive solo attack on stage four at the Tour of Oman kicked things off for the Spaniard. He sprang off the front in the final kilometre of the Green Mountain climb, opened up a gap and didn't lose it despite a fierce chase behind. His three consistent top five results at the Volta a Catalunya, Tour of Oman and Tirreno Adriatico and his proven pedigree in the Ardennes - he won Fleche Wallonne last year and came second in Amstel in 2011 - put him in contention this weekend.
Niki Terpstra, 28, Omega Pharma-QuickStep
After a fateful day on the cobbles for Omega Pharma at Paris-Roubaix, Terpstra's third place finish on the podium was enough to salvage the day for the team. While the Dutch national road race champion is showing great form, his team is equally due a little luck.
Sergio Henao, 25, Sky
A well-earned top 10 finish at last year's Giro d'Italia was an impressive highlight to Henao's Grand Tour career, can he turn that in to one-day success? The Colombian recently took a stage victory at the Tour of the Basque Country to put himself in the leader's jersey, so he's got the form. Henao couldn't hold onto the overall lead, but he did enough to earn get a place on the podium and appears to be in the form of his career. Unfortunately for the pure climbers, Amstel isn't hilly enough to get rid of the likes of Sagan.
Best of the rest
Edvald Boasson-Hagen, 25, Sky
The Norwegian was left wanting at the Tour of Flanders but still has Amstel to rescue Sky's Classics campaign. The short asphalt climbs in the Netherlands suit his style, but the question is whether or not he can go the distance.
Maxim Iglinskiy, 31, Astana
The winner of last year's Liege-Bastogne-Liege will be returning to the Ardennes knowing it's his best chance of the season. He's been ticking along so far, has he been biding his time?
Alejandro Valverde, 32, Movistar
Amstel is more of a warm-up to Fleche and Liege for the Spaniard, but if he's there at the finish and times his sprint right he's good for a podium finish.
Thomas Voeckler, 33, Europcar
It'll take something outstanding from the Frenchman to succeed in the Netherlands, but he was prominent in the Tour of Flanders and might fancy his luck over the Cauberg - he was fifth last year.
Amstel Gold Race 2013: The Big Preview