No Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix this year for Gilbert as he stakes everything on redeeming his Ardennes crown. Amstel winner in 2010 and 2011, as well as winning the World Championships in Valkenburg in 2012. Gilbert’s star has faded somewhat since his golden year in 2011 but at 31, he is still young enough to re-capture that form. Has the perfect mix of punch and climbing ability needed to win in the Ardennes and if on form, will be unstoppable. After out-sprinting Michael Matthews to win Brabantse Pijl, it looks like that form is coming, and that is ominous for his rivals.
The season may yet be young, but last year’s Amstel runner up is already notching up victories, winning Grand Premio Miguel Indurain, 3 stages and the overall in the Tour of Andalucia, the Tour of Murcia and the Roma Maxima. These may not be World Tour races but impressive nonetheless. Expect him up front for the Ardennes and it’d be no surprise to seem him pull off the win in Amstel.
Glorious in Stade Bianche after beating big favourite Peter Sagan in a man to man fight in the finale. The 23-year old Pole is an all-rounder if ever there was one. He’s a good climber, strong sprinter and a decent time trialist, so it’s natural that expectations are high in his homeland. It’s not fully clear if Kwiatkowski will be one for the hilly classics or a grand tour specialist. 4th in last year’s Amstel Gold was followed with 11th in Tour, so maybe a Schleck style Ardennes/Tour combo will become his regular goal.
Winner in his home race in Catalunya, Purito is clearly on form for the Ardennes. He usually performs well in hilly classics, winning La Fleche Wallone and having numerous second places in Amstel and Liege. His punchy style suits the race and he could well be the fastest man up the Cauberg if that it how the race is to be decided. Never strong in a sprint, Rogdriguez will need to distance himself from the likes of Valverde and Gilbert if he is to claim the win.
A rider now making good on the potential shown in his early years, the 27-year old Czech is the current champion after a bold attack last year meant he didn’t have to compete with the punchier riders on the Cauberg. Fits in well at Tinkoff-Saxo and delivered a big performance last year to finish 5th in the Tour de France, despite working for teammate Contador. Certainly has the strength and wherewithal to repeat last year’s win.
Gerrans has twice finished third in Amstel Gold, in 2011 and 2013, and there is no doubt that the race suits his punchy style. The Aussie has become a much more consistent rider with age and will be feared by the other favourites. Forever immortalised with his Monument win in Sanremo, Gerrans has since gone on to have a stint in the yellow jersey of the Tour. 2014 has seen Gerrans with all guns blazing, winning the Australian national championships as well as the Tour Down Under. Would no doubt love to add Amstel to his palmares.
Slowly but surely, people are starting to take notice of the young Dutchman. Garmin signed him from Belkin with an eye on the hilly classics, and Slagter didn’t take long to prove his worth with 2 stage wins in Paris-Nice, the 2nd of those coming on terrain very similar to Amstel. Not one for the big mountains, the Cauberg is his bread and butter and home fans will be hoping Slagter can deliver a Dutch victory in Valkenburg.
3rd in 2010 and champion in 2012, Gasparotto doesn’t pick up a lot of top results but when he comes to the Netherlands something seems to click. Ardennes week is often his best week of the season and the Italian will once again look to have his say in 2014.