• Three-time Amstel Gold Race winner Philippe Gilbert will line up Sunday as defending champion. (AAP)
In the first of his newly named columns*, Anthony Tan narrows the field of potential winners for Sunday's Amstel Gold Race to a septet.
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18 Apr 2015 - 12:46 PM  UPDATED 18 Apr 2015 - 5:46 PM

Start in Maastricht, finish in Valkenburg, but not before 34 climbs including four ascensions of the Cauberg, the summit of the last 1.8 kilometres from the finish.

That has been the formula for The Amstel Gold Race since 2013, when organisers decided to move the white line where Philippe Gilbert won the road world championships in 2012; a three-time winner of the event, the Belgian also happens to be the defending champion, and among six former winners, will line up as such on Sunday.

"Each time I tried to retrace the circuitous maze-like parcours, getting lost was easier done than said."

There is no point me taking you through the 258 kilometre parcours. During the mid-2000s, in my five-year stint working in Europe as a sports correspondent, I based myself in Limburg for an entire season, living in a three centuries old house 200 metres from the race route and less than 10km from the foot of the Cauberg; each time I tried to retrace the circuitous maze-like parcours, getting lost was easier done than said. Far simpler was to go straight to the Cauberg, do a few loops, then park up for a beer, er, I mean coffee, at one of the many pubs, er, cafes in the area of Valkenberg, or ride to Maastrict and hang out in the Grote Markt, stuffing oneself full of frites and thereby undoing any good work achieved beforehand, such being the nature of many journalists' dietary habits including my own at the time.

"In 99 out of 100 cases, the final charge up the Cauberg will decide the size of the winning group, if not the winner."

Just know this region of Limburg should really be named 'Limberg', for the 'bergs' or hills are short but many and often have 'berg' in their name - Slingerberg, Geulhemmerberg, Loorberg, Gulpenerberg, Kruisberg and, of course, Cauberg - 1.2km long, 5.8 percent average gradient, ramps of 12 percent - the most famous, to name but a few - and that in 99 out of 100 cases, the final charge up the latter will decide the size of the winning group, if not the winner, including that of the 50th edition.

Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing)

Why he can win: Because he seems to have discovered that rather elusive thing they call form at just the right time, having finished third in Wednesday's Brabantse Pijl.
Why he can't: For whatever reason, he hasn't been the same rider since 2011 when he won the Ardennes triple crown. With less riders doping nowadays one would've thought he'd win more, but that said, there are now more like him, and younger. His team-mate Greg Van Avermaet, the pair strange bedfellows, wants to win, too. And the guy who won Brabantse Pijl, Ben Hermans, is also a BMC rider... Too many chiefs?
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "You da man. You still da man. So you go, girlfriend, um, er, I mean, boyfriend!"

"34 years old and in his 14th season as a pro, isn't he getting a little tired? Nah..."

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

Why he can win: As undeniably versatile as he is, hilly one day races are, and will always be, Valverde's bread and butter. On most occasions, plays the waiting game perfectly. Was impressive in Catalunya. Finished second in 2013 to Roman Kreuziger, who escaped a few kilometres before the Cauberg.
Why he can't: 34 years old and in his 14th season as a pro, isn't he getting a little tired? Nah...
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "You're not old - Jens Voigt and Chris Horner are old. And Nairo Quintana is too young. I'm just right."

Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step)

Why he can win: Because the world champ hasn't yet won a road stage this season
Why he can't: *Damn this cursed rainbow jersey, damn you!*
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "I thought I told you I don't believe in the curse of the rainbow jersey!"

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE)

Why he can win: Because so far this season, Bling's riding the best we've ever seen. Brought himself nicely back into shape after Paris-Nice and Sanremo; evidence of that was Brabantse Pijl, where he finished second to Hermans.
Why he can't: 4,000 metres of climbing may be a little too much for Bling-dog.
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "If you win this, I'll buy you a new earring."

"If he's sprinting against Valverde, Kwiatkowski or Matthews, he's dead."

Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha)

Why he can win: Because he's just won two stages and the overall at the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco (Tour of Basque Country). Finished second in 2011 to Gilbert.
Why he can't: If he's sprinting against Valverde, Kwiatkowski or Matthews, he's dead. More suited to Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "Smoke 'em, J-Rod..."

"Needs to 'do a Kreuziger' to win Amstel."

Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin)

Why he can win: Dark horse, but seriously underrated. Hometown race (born/lives in Maastricht). Excellent shape, having won final TT in Pais Vasco.
Why he can't: A similar dilemma to Rodríguez; he lacks a finish to match Valverde or Matthews, but is not as punchy as Purito. Probably needs to 'do a Kreuziger' to win Amstel.
What he says: "In the past months I have worked hard in training and I have used the Vuelta al Pais Vasco as a finishing touch. The time trial win on the last day in Spain gave me a lot of confidence. Now I hope it works out well for the upcoming period. After finishing Pais Vasco my main aim was to be as fit and ready as possible for Amstel Gold Race. I am really looking forward to this special race for me with the start in my backyard and riding in my training area. In the beginning of this week I did my last long training, mainly along this Sunday's route. The rest of the week consisted of short training (sessions) to give my body rest and be ready for the race, so I hope the hard work will pay off."

Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal)

Why he can win: Knows how to hit his targets. Finished fourth in Brabantse Pijl. Amstel should, in theory, suit him.
Why he can't: Never done much in the Ardennes triptych - why now?
What he says: "I decided to sacrifice my participation in the Flemish classics for the Ardennes classics. On Sunday we'll know if this turns out well, but this choice gives me confidence. The preparation went smoothly. The Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are two different races. The Amstel is a really nervous race, where you have to be very concentrated, with a specific finish. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is more historical, the roads are smoother and it's just a bit higher in the hierarchy for us riders. I hope to set a result as high as possible on Sunday. If I'm one of the last ten riders on the Cauberg, I will be able to play a role in the absolute final phase and I will be very satisfied. My sprint in a small group is an advantage, I think. Guys like Gilbert and Rodriguez will choose to attack and I hope to follow them."

* Michael Tomalaris was the genius who came up with 'Tan Lines'. The columnist is still debating its merits with web editor Phil Gomes but nevertheless relented; so, after six years and more than 300 blogposts for Cycling Central, he reluctantly put 'Velo Files' to rest.