At 4:21am ET on Sunday the first of the Ardennes Classics, the Amstel Gold Race, kicks off. The Ardennes Classics (Amstel Gold Race, La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege) are different than other Spring Classics in the sense that they are more open to riders other than sprinters, including the general classifications contenders (the folks that go for the win at the Tour de France). Here are a few riders to watch.
(BMC Racing) – Last year, Philippe Gilbert annihilated the field in each of the Ardennes Classics and did what only one other person in history has done before: won all three. This year, though, Gilbert has not shown the same dominance in the early stages of the season and is, by all accounts, a long shot to win on Sunday. BMC Racing (and especially Gilbert) has caught a lot of flak for their performance so far this year, so if Gilbert has any pride he will step up his game.
Andy and Frank Schleck (RadioShack Nissan Trek) – Though not in as good of form as years past, the Schlecks are still going to be shadowed by everyone in the peloton. Last year, Andy made a brash solo attack that lasted until a few hundred meters from the finish. Look for these two to benefit from a disorganized lead group and attack up the infamous, 20% grade Cauberg climb in the race’s waning moments.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) – He attacked on the Cauberg last year but was not able to keep up with a charging Gilbert. He definitely has the legs and the tenacity to win this race.
Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) – Sammy took a big step in his career recently by winning the Tour of the Basque Country. He is a great all-around rider that should have no trouble with the up and down course.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) – Ryder has been a consistent favorite leading up to the Ardennes Classics and the Grand Tours, but aside from his second place finish at Amstel Gold in 2010 he has largely failed to live up to the hype. He has what it takes to be great, but needs to amass some victories to prove his doubters wrong.
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) – Thomas was the hero of the 2004 Tour de France that never, let me repeat that, NEVER backs down from a challenge. He may not be the strongest and well-suited riders in the field but he has a desire to win that is second to none.