Cycling: 2009 Amstel Gold/2009 Fleche Wallone/2009 Liege
Okay I've been pounded the last few weeks, especially Paris Roubaix. Time to take things a little easier.
We’ll start with defending champion Damiano Cunego (Lampre). Cunego was the 4th Italian rider to win this event in 2008 and will be hoping to win it again this year. He is a proven Ardennes specialist and has solid form and wins already to his name in 2009. He was in the general classification in the Settimana Ciclistica Internazionale “Coppi e Bartali” where he took wins in Stage 2 and Stage 3 and a second in stage 5. Just recently, last week, he was 6th overall in the Vuelta Al Pais Vasco and he showed ominous signs in that race that his form is ready to add to his classics resume. He attacked and looked strong in the mountains and with what he has shown last week and this year, he is going to be hard to beat. Of course the defending champion has some stiff competition.
Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) is arguably an Ardennes specialist. In 2006 he added the first Ardennes race to his name. He won La Fleche Wallone and then followed it up 4 days later with another win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and stamped his authority. In 2007, he came second in both those races and 7th in the Amstel Gold. In 2008 he won Liege again for the second time and came third in Amstel Gold. There is only one Ardennes classic missing from his impressive resume and that’s this race, the Amstel Gold. This year has been a solid year for Valverde on the bike. He has 9th overall in the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon where he won the points classification and the mountains classification whilst winning stage 3 and stage 5. On sunday he won the 55th Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta over Cunego and the other contenders this week in what is a good form builder for the week to come. However, off the bike he has had a tumultuous time. He has been linked to Operation Puerto and is facing a 2 year ban in Italy and soon the UCI may enforce the ban which means this could be his last race for a while. No one else will be as motivated as Valverde is this week. But will his mind be on the job?
Davide Rebellin (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni), the veteran at 37 years of age is another one who wants to add another race to his long list of achievements. After a string of consistent performances from 1994 – 2004 in the Ardennes classics, he finally registered a win in 2004. Not only did he register one win, the first in Amstel but he also won Liege and Fleche in the same year in a remarkable effort. In 2007 he added Fleche Wallone to his long resume again and last year he was second in Liege, 4th in the Amstel and 6th in Wallone. He has always been consistent in these classics with a string of podium finishes. This year he won stages 3 and 4 in the Vuelta a Andalucia. However being at 37 years of age, his speed might be gone and he might not be able to match the likes of Valverde and Cunego. But the Italian is a solid rider and is a threat and has shown with his victories this year that he still has the legs.
Luxemberg’s Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) is another solid rider and a proven classics specialist. He won the Amstel Gold in 2006 and came third in Liege in 2007. In 2008 he had a second and a third in Amstel Gold and Liege respectively. He is class and has shown he is on the best in the world in classics. He has also performed too on the big stage in the Tour de France finishing 6th overall last year. As far as his form goes this year, he is riding well. He won stage 8 of the Tour of California in February. In March he came 2nd overall in Paris-Nice whilst finishing second in stage 6 and 3rd in both stages 7 and 8. Saxo Bank need another win this season. The last month Fabian Cancellara has been coming back from injury and so has Stuart O’Grady so they havn’t been able to get solid results in the other classics. However, Breschel was solid for them in Paris-Roubaix and Gent-Wevelgem. With Frank’s proven track record, a previous winner and a solid rider, he is a force to be reckoned with.
Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d’Epargne) is not without a chance. Rodriguez has solid results in his career. His major win came in 2003 at the Vuelta where he won stage 8. The Ardennes classics last year brought him 8th in all 3 races. This year he recorded back to back wins in Stage 4 of Tirreno-Adriatico and 5th in Stage 6. The last three weeks Rodriguez came 6th in stage 1 of Vuelta Al Pais Vasco and put up a 14th place two days later. Recently he came 12th in the Klasika Primavera on April 12 where he was riding for Valverde, where Valverde got his recent win. Caisse have two weapons up their sleeve on Sunday and Rodriguez can surprise, especially if everyone is watching Valverde.
Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel) is a solid rider and one of the form riders of the peloton at the minute. His best result in the Ardennes was 2nd in Liege in 2006. The past week, Sanchez has fired a lot of bullets in Vuelta Al Pais Vasco. He has shown solid form finishing 2nd in a sprint after heavy climbs in stage 1, followed up with a 3rd in stage 3 and another 3rd in the time trial. He finished third overall and gave out the impression he means business this week starting with Amstel Gold. I can’t rule him out as I expect him to be there at the end and yes, I’ve nearly tipped him for the win.
Cadel Evans (Silence Lotto) will be looking to add yet another win next to his name in 2009. Cadel specificially asked Silence Lotto to let him ride Amstel. Last year he showed good signs in the Ardennes with a 2nd in Fleche Wallone and a 7th in Liege. This year he has won stage 5 of Settimana internazionale di Coppi e Bartali in a sprint finish and finished second overall in the general classification. That produced Silence Lotto’s first win of the season which has been a mediocre season by Lotto’s standards. Last week in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Cadel finished 4th overall and in the mountain stages showed some attacking form. He’s not without a chance here and cannot be overlooked.
Robert Gesink (Rabobank) is a young solid rider. The 22 year old has had consistent results in the classics over the last 2 years. Whilst he has not finished on the podium in some of the classics, he has won a few stage races and his best result in Amstel Gold has been 21st position last year. His 2009 form has given him five top 10’s. His best results were 6th in stage 5 of Tirreno-Adriatico and 6th in stage 3 of the Vuelta Al Pais Vasco and 9th in stage 6 of the same race, whilst finishing 7th overall on the classification. Gesink is a local boy who will be hoping to break through and win a classic this year. He will win one eventually in his career, whether or not it’s this week is yet to be seen. A major contender nonetheless, he has Juan Antonio Flecha and Nick Nuyens as solid team-mates, so Rabobank bring a solid squad with these three riders very strong chances.
Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank) is another hope. A local boy, his best result in this event was 9th last year. However this year he is riding with a real purpose. He finished 4th this year in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and came 5th in Brabantse Pijl. He rode extremely well in the tour of Flanders finishing 14th and looked strong without luck on Sunday in Klasika Primavera finishing 15th. Expect a top 10.
Sylvain Chavanel (Quick-Step) is producing some fine results this year. He is having his best year to date. He has never featured high in the Ardennes classics before, however this year, especially the last 3 weeks whilst working for Tom Boonen and Stijn Devolder he has posted impressive results in Paris Roubaix (8th), E3 (5th), Dwars (7th). He won stage 3 in Paris-Nice in his only win this year. He will have the luxury to be Quick-Steps leader in the absence of Devolder and Boonen so look for him to perform well, even though some say he might be past his peak.
Kim Kirchen (Columbia High-Road) last year started to make his name as an Ardennes specialist after he won Fleche Wallone. However he broke his collarbone in the tour of California in February thus has limited racing up his sleeve. Kirchen, however cannot be overlooked as if he is at his best, he can win this race. Columbia are sending a very strong team with guys like Michael Rogers and Tony Martin.
Other chances include; Philippe Gilbert and Thomas Dekker (Silence Lotto), Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), Rinaldo Nocentini and Martin Elmiger (Both AG2R). Sandy Casar (FDJ), David de la Fuente (Fuji-Servetto), Juan Antonio Flecha and Nick Nuyens (Both Rabobank), Jerome Pineau (Quick-Step), Michael Rogers and Tony Martin (Columbia), Andreas Klier (Cervello), Linus Gerdemann and Fabian Wegmann (Milram), Vincenzo Nibali and Roman Krueziger (Liquigas), Martijn Maaskant (Garmin) and Bjorn Luekemans (Vacansoleil).
Evans is nice value top 3 @ $7
But my bets are as follows.
1.5 unit Valverde to win @ $7
6.5 units Valverde to place @ $2.50
5 units Samuel Sanchez top 10 @ $1.65