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Amstel Gold Race: Get The Beers In!

The little sister of the more famous Classics, the Amstel Gold isn’t as well known as Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders or Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but it’s a hell of a race in its own right. 30 short, sharp climbs demolish the idea that Holland is flat – after 250 leg-snapping kms on Sunday the riders will be able to tell you that!

Amstel Gold was moved forward in the calendar last year because it provides a more realistic link between the vicious hills of Flanders, the cobbles of P-R and the longer climbs of Fleche-Wallone and L-B-L.

The make-up of the teams for Amstel will show a few differences from the early Classics as the climbers start to make more of an appearance. There should also be a couple of Grand Tour specialists trying their legs out, too, as the risk of a season-ending fall isn’t as big.

So, who’s going to be in the mix on Sunday? Look no further than Alexandre Vinokourov who won this race last year. Vino’ gets my admiration because he never ducks a challenge. Instead of preparing for the Tour de France, he’s already mashed the opposition at Paris-Nice with 3 stage wins in 4 days – maybe one of his T-Mobile team-mates might want to learn something from that? He’s got a strong team to support him, but if he’s in the nood he won’t need them.

Rabobank have 2 former winners on hand to light things up. Michael Boogerd is a guy who hasn’t really won as much as he should have in the course of his career, but he’s always gone well at Amstel as the course profile suits the efforts he makes. Erik Dekker is coming into form after a couple of injury-ruined seasons and will want to fight for a second title. It’s always good to have a couple of options, but when it comes down to it, who would the Rabo-boys doing the donkey work rather help? Could be an inter-team squabble on Sunday.

Unusually, this race is one where Quick.Step tend to get mentioned a bit further down the list. They’ll be relying on defending World Cup champ Paolo Bettini to do the business even although he’s not figured here before. ‘Il Grillo’ might be saving himself for Liege, though, so we’ll have to see how much he puts into it on Sunday.

CSC will switch a number of guys from the early-season stage race team into the squad for Sunday, so we’ll see Jaksche and Arvesen riding for Michele Bartoli. The Italian won Amstel in 2002 and still has the strength to do something over the 3 climbs of the nasty Cauberg, which hosts the finish of the race.

Lotto-Domo haven’t had the greatest of campaigns so far in 2004 and will hope that Peter Van Petegem is still motivated after missing out at Flanders and P-R.

Saeco haven’t been too hot, either, and now is the time for Danilo Di Luca and Mirko Celestino to show what they can do. Di Luca has already identified 2004 as a make-or-break kind of year for his future aspirations, so he’ll need to get a shift on for Sunday.

A sound bet to place, but not to win, is Gerolsteiner’s Davide Rebellin because he always seems to miss out. This is a race that suits his style of riding, but he seems to need a Ferretti-type manager to shout at him when it’s time to attack. He’ll be close, but not close enough.

No Classics preview would be complete without a mention of Frank Vandenbroucke – luck hasn’t been on VDB’s side this spring as punctures wrecked Flanders and P-R for him. This is more like Franky Boy’s territory though, and Fassa Bortolo boss Ferretti doesn’t like failure too much, so it’ll be all hands on deck to pilot VDB towards a winning opportunity.

So, there you have it. We’re halfway through the Spring Classics already, and a lot of big names and big teams have a bit of catching up to do. Stay tuned to Pez CyclingNews to find out if they start making progress at Amstel on Sunday, or whether they’ll just be drowning their sorrows with the help of the sponsor!

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