Having won the race twice before and claimed the world championship title on the new race finish, Belgian Philippe Gilbert is in the prime position to succeed in Sunday's Amstel Gold.
I have not got the same motivation from the worlds for the Classics. Of course, you always want to win but it is always more important to win a world championship than a Classic.
Gilbert claimed Amstel Gold victory in 2010 and 2011, but could only muster a sixth last year behind Enrico Gasparotto (Astana).
In September he rode away from his rivals on the final slopes of the Cauberg to claim the world title.
While the 2013 Amstel Gold finish has been moved 1.8kms past the top of the Cauberg to mimic the 2012 UCI World Championship finish, the BMC rider is quick to highlight the differences between the 252km Amstel Gold and the world championships.
“The bunch is completely different. The goals are different,” said Gilbert.
“I have not got the same motivation from the worlds for the Classics. Of course, you always want to win but it is always more important to win a world championship than a Classic.
“So I think it is different, you will see less people able to win this Sunday than in September last year. But the goal for us will be to try to win this race.”
My number for tomorrow! For the worlds I had the 31 on the same finish. twitter.com/PhilippeGilber…— PHILIPPE GILBERT (@PhilippeGilbert) April 13, 2013
The Amstel Gold is the first Ardennes classic, opening the week-long series of races. While King of the Classics Fabian Cancellara is taking a well-earned break after claiming the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix crowns, the hillier Ardennes race opens up a new group of contenders.
Gilbert is yet to claim a victory in the rainbow stripes but with his season structured around peak form at the Ardennes Classics, and a second place at the De Brabantse Pijil on Wednesday, that may all be about to change.
“I am feeling okay, actually,” said Gilbert, who opted to skip his orginially scheduled Tour of Flanders in favour of a hillier stage race.
“I think I did a good choice to skip Flanders and to go to Pais Vasco and to ride hard in the climbs and make some big efforts.
“We can see this last Wednesday, this choice paid [off] already as I was second. It is not winning but I was close to the win and it does give me some confidence.”
The world champion finished second to Cannondale’s jack-of-all-trades Peter Sagan who he recognises as his main rival for the race.
“He is the favourite, there is no question about that,” said Gilbert.
“But like I said, we all come to win, every team comes to win. Every team tries to beat the favourite.
“This year it is Sagan. I am not sure if he can win…if he can win, this would be very nice for him as winning as the favourite is always something very special. But I hope we can beat him.”
Sagan indicated that the Amstel Gold suits his characteristics when he finished third in the 2012 edition of the Dutch race behind Gasparotto (Astana) and Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol).
“Last year I was third and I remember being left with a bitter taste in my mouth,” said Sagan.
“Then I realised that result, in such a hard race, was something important. I understood that the Amstel Gold Race was a classic suited for me: this will be the starting point of my performance on Sunday to try to win.”
“The victory in Brabante on Wednesday was a boost of confidence. I raced first of all to understand the level of my form. It was useful also to see the other contenders in action, Gilbert above all. He was strong and his form is growing, like Rodriguez, Valverde and Gerrans, who will be some of the strongest riders. But I expect also many others to be in the mix.
“I think the competition will be a key factor during the race, especially in the final phases. Compared to the cobbled classics, the Amstel is a more open race. And we have to consider also the changes of the route from 2012. The final circuit, the same of the 2012 World Champs, is easier and more advantageous for someone who wants to attack.”
Amstel Gold opens an eight-day Ardennes campaign that also features Fleche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
The Amstel Gold Race will be broadcast LIVE to Eastern states from 10:30pm Sunday 14 April SBS ONE, with live streaming online here at Cycling Central.