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GENK, Belgium (VN) — As usual, American outfit Garmin-Sharp finds itself a bit of an outsider as it heads into the hilly classics. As usual, the team prefers it that way. And unsurprisingly, the team itself maintains its traditional looseness — the riders all piled into a boat on a rarely sunny Belgian afternoon — in spite of having the defending Liège-Bastogne-Liège champion on its roster.
But make no mistake here: Garmin brings a very deep team into the Ardennes classics, one with 2013 Liège winner Dan Martin of Ireland. But Garmin doesn’t have the megastar of a Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), who won all three Ardennes races in 2011, and it doesn’t have the deep expectations of a Belgian team. The squad kicks off Ardennes week at Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race.
Alex Howes, one of Garmin’s key support riders, says he’s unsure of the pressure the team will face, particularly in Liège next weekend. The team hasn’t found itself in this position before.
“I’ve never had to defend Liège. We’ve never been in this position before. I think we’re fortunate in the fact that we’ve always been seen as underdogs,” Howes said, reclined on a couch at the team hotel a short distance from the start of Amstel. “But maybe that’ll change a little bit this year. But honestly, you look at the guys coming to these races. Guys like Gilbert, and Purito [Joaquim Rodriguez], [Alejandro] Valverde. Hitters. They’ll have a full squad around them, very deep squads as well. We’re definitely not the favorites.”
That’s a role the Garmin boys prefer. Martin won Liège last year to many people’s surprise when he unfurled a devastating final kick, dropping Rodriguez (Katusha) in the process. On that day, Garmin employed attacking teamwork brilliantly, as it sent a flying Ryder Hesjedal up the road to provoke the race rather than truly try and control anything. That’s not what wildcards do, control things.
Martin is excited to be back, and why not? Starting a monument with the ones on his back is something he’s looking forward to.
“Obviously in the past we’ve been relatively successful. Even last year coming into it I’d been sixth in Flèche and fifth in Liège,” Martin said. “And so we were optimistic about what we could achieve. I don’t think any of us could imagine that we’d be coming away with victory, but yeah, it happened. And to be starting Liège this year with the number ones on my back? It’s going to be incredible. It’s a pleasure to ride that race and I’ll be really proud pinning those numbers on. But at the same time, that’s last year, it’s done, it’s finished.”
Come Sunday in Valkenburg, it’s all business. The Amstel Gold Race climbs more than 13,000 feet and has riders packed into small streets for six, seven hours. Martin said he’s thinking of Amstel first and foremost, and that the rest of the Ardennes can wait.
In his Garmin teammates, Howes sees a deep lineup and, as a result, doesn’t think he has much of a chance to ride for himself in the Ardennes. He finished sixth in Brabantse Pijl (Brabant Arrow) in 2012.
“We’ve got a really, really deep team for Amstel, Flèche, and Liège,” Howes said. “It goes all the way down. We’re defending the Liège title. And Ryder Hesjedal’s always really good in these races. Tom-Jelte [Slagter], he’s been kicking phenomenally in the finals. Nathan [Haas] is looking good this year. Fabian Wegmann … He’s always there. On paper, I’m the weakest link.”
Garmin, even with a champ, is an underdog. The squad won’t hold any press conferences — maybe one before Liège for Martin — and won’t be stared at to constrict the races.
“We’re fine with that,” Howes said. “We’re gonna throw down.”
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Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is ready to make up for disappointment last year across the Ardennes with a winning ride in at least one of the hilly classics.
Which one? He doesn’t care. Already a winner of one Flèche Wallonne (2006) and two Liège-Bastogne-Liège (2006, 2008), the veteran Spaniard is motivated to make up for third in last year’s Liège, when a mechanical problem in the final attack kept him from shifting gears and opening up his sprint.
“As I’m feeling now, the only goal is winning,” Valverde said in a team release. “We know it’s much easier said than done. I was running well last year, and I was always in the front, but I couldn’t win any of the three.”
Last year, Valverde was solid across the Ardennes, riding to second behind the unstoppable Roma Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) at Amstel Gold, seventh at Flèche, and third at Liège behind Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp).
Always a consistent performer in the hilly classics,Valverde is on good form, and will be a five-star favorite across Ardennes week, which begins Sunday with Amstel Gold Race.
Valverde already has seven wins on the 2014 season, including Roma Maxima and GP Indurain. He skipped racing the Volta a Catalunya to race across the cobblestones at Dwars door Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke to get a taste of what awaits in this summer’s Tour de France.
At the Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) earlier this month, he was out-gunned by eventual winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), scoring three second places in stages, but falling off the final podium after bleeding too much time in the final time trial to finish fifth.
Contador is skipping the Ardennes after his highly successful spring campaign, meaning Valverde, and steady Ardennes performer Joaquin Rodríguez (Katusha) will be the top Spanish riders for the upcoming classics.
Backing up Valverde will be a solid Movistar team, including Beñat Intxausti, John Gadret, Imanol Erviti, and Iván Gutiérrez.
“I always get asked which one I would like to win if I could choose just one, but I won’t do that because I like all three,” Valverde said. “It’s true that Amstel is the one that resisted me so far, I’ve been second and third there, but I still love Liège. I will give 100 percent in all three.”
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SITTARD, Netherlands (VN) — The bumps of Belgium are long gone now, and in their stead come the hills of the Dutch Limburg region. To be more precise, there are 34 climbs over the Amstel Gold Race’s 251 kilometers, amounting to more than 13,000 feet of climbing.
The Amstel Gold Race comes this weekend and with it a different sort of rider and race. Gone are the big and hearty men of the northern cobbles, and out come the climbers, the GC types, the puncheurs.
This Sunday marks the opening of what’s known as Ardennes week, the 10 days of hillier one-day races spanning the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège–Bastogne–Liège. Though Amstel is held in the Limburg region, outside of the forested Ardennes, it’s lumped into the onslaught of steep, paved climbs and teams look at the three races the same way: hard.
The favorites here are punchy climbers and general classification riders — riders like Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), Rui Costa (Lampre), Tom-Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp), and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Amstel Gold Race’s return to the new finish, and 34 climbs
This marks the second year for the “new” finish of Amstel Gold, nearly two kilometers past the top of the Cauberg climb above Valkenburg, the site (and the same finish, now) as the 2012 UCI Road World Championships. Ahead of last year’s 48th edition, Amstel Gold Race course director Leo van Vliet, a coach for the Dutch worlds team in 2012, elected to go with the worlds finish. On Wednesday, crews put the finishing touches on massive hospitality tents at the flat finish line.
The alteration means a different finish that can suit a different type of rider. If a lithe climber breaks free of the clutches of a group at the base of the Cauberg (1.2km at 5.8 percent), he may not be able to sustain the gap over the 1.8km to the finish. It’s mostly flat, but it will most likely be windy.
The field will climb the Cauberg — Gilbert’s springboard for his 2012 rainbow jersey — twice near the end of the race. The first time, the riders will pass through the finish area and up the Geulhemmerberg (970m at 7.9 percent), then the Bemerlerberg (900m at 7 percent), and then the Cauberg a final time before the finish in Vilt.
Climbs of the 2014 Amstel Gold Race:
1. Slingerberg (1.3km, 4.8%)
2. Adsteeg (700m, 4.5%)
3. Lange Raarberg (1.8km, 3.9%)
4. Bergseweg (2.6km, 3.3%)
5. Sibbergrubbe (1.8km, 3.9%)
6. Cauberg (1.2km, 5.8%)
7. Geulhemmerberg (1km, 6.2%)
8. Wolfsberg (800m, 4.4%)
9. Loorberg (1.5km, 5.5%)
10. Schweibergerweg (2.9km, 3.9%)
11. Camerig (4.3km, 3.8%)
12. Drielandenpunt (3.7km, 3.7%)
13. Gemmenich (900m, 6.4%)
14. Vijlenerbos (1.8km, 5.1%)
15. Eperheide (2.3km, 4.1%)
16. Gulpenerberg (700m, 8.1%)
17. Plettenberg (1km, 4.2%)
18. Eijserweg (2.2km, 4.3%)
19. Huls (1km, 7.7%)
20. Vrakelberg (700m, 7.9%)
21. Sibbergrubbe (2.1km, 4.1%)
22. Cauberg (1.2km, 5.8%)
23. Geulhemmerberg (1km, 6.2%)
24. Bemelerberg (900m, 5%)
25. Loorberg (1.5km, 5.5%)
26. Gulpenerberg (700m, 8.1%)
27. Kruisberg (800m, 7.5%)
28. Eijserbosweg (1.1km, 8.1%)
29. Fromberg (1.6km, 4%)
30. Keutenberg (700m, 9.4%)
31. Cauberg (1.2km, 5.8%)
32. Geulhemmerberg (1km, 6.2%)
33. Bemelerberg (900m, 5%)
34. Cauberg (1.2km, 5.8%)
Kwiatkowski’s coronation, a veteran’s confirmation, or a surprise attack?
All that climbing on those narrow roads and its timing as the kickoff to the Ardennes make Amstel Gold wildly hard to predict, though this much is clear: it will be incredibly difficult and immensely stressful. The roads here are one-car wide, and the amount of traffic furniture — bumps, poles, odd curbs — is incredible. Crashes at Amstel Gold are a near certainty, and large and loud crowds are a guarantee. It’s a race named after a beer, after all.
Amstel Gold could fall to a younger rider like Kwiatkowski or an older one like Valverde (second last year). Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) will have his eyes on the Ardennes races, as will Garmin-Sharp’s Daniel Martin, winner of last year’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Gilbert has won this race twice, in 2010 and 2011, and demonstrated in Wednesday’s De Brabantse Pijl that he has sharpened his fitness ahead of his home races.
Kwiatkowski is a good bet because he comes into Amstel Gold having shown he’s on great form (second at Vuelta al País Vasco, behind a flying Alberto Contador) and is a year wiser. And he showed his late-race snap when he blew up Peter Sagan (Cannondale) to win Strade Bianche in March. Last year, he finished fourth at Amstel Gold and fifth at La Flèche Wallonne. The Polish champion appears to be on the cusp of an Ardennes victory.
“Kwiatkowski was fourth last year and is in a good moment of his season. With Kwiatkowski the team can also count on a guy like Wout Poels, the queen stage winner of País Vasco. We did really well at País Vasco as a team last week, and therefore it is good for the cohesion of the unit that we also selected Jan Bakelants, and Tony Martin — who is returning to the classics after a few years away — as well as Pieter Serry and Michal Golas,” Omega Pharma director Wilfried Peeters said. The Belgian squad will also bring Zdenek Stybar. “He is the lone rider who participated in the cobblestone classics. He likes this race and the parcours. It’s kind of like a Tour of Flanders with hills, but without the cobbled sections. So, it can fit his skills,” Peeters said in a press release.
Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) won last year’s Amstel Gold Race, and shouldn’t be discounted, either, though he downplayed his chances this week in a team interview.
“I don’t feel at my best yet, but you never know. Even last year at this time, I felt really bad and at the end I won anyway. But I’m confident in terms of doing Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne. Rory (Sutherland), Karsten (Kroon), Nicki (Sørensen), and I are ready, experienced and I’m sure that you’re going to see our Tinkoff jersey there,” he said.
Last year’s third-place finisher, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) has had a quiet start to the classics season, though he won his national championship in the road race — no small feat in Australia nowadays — and also snagged the overall at Santos Tour Down Under in the first month of the season.
In fact, the list of men who could win these races feels longer than that of the northern classics. Though the climbing finales are, in theory, more predictable than flatter finishes, races like Amstel Gold seldom are. Who saw Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) winning in 2012, or, a step further, Maxim Iglinsky (Astana) winning Liège that same year as well? Probably two people: Gasparotto and Iglinsky.
Riders from the home country have won 17 times, the most of any nation by a healthy measure. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) could certainly snag one for the home nation this weekend, but others like Costa and Slagter, twice a stage winner at Paris-Nice earlier this season, appear more suited to the uphill, then flat, finish.
As of Thursday, the Amstel flags were flying above Valkenburg. The massive tents at the finish and small patios lining the base of the Cauberg waited to house their raucous spectators. But what they’ll see? Well, that’s about as predictable as can be expected after a couple hundred kilometers of sinuous, hilly Dutch roads: not at all.
The post Preview: At long last, Amstel Gold Race arrives for climbers appeared first on VeloNews.com.
- It's a chilly night, and you, you're without your hoodie because you left it at Penrose!
Send me an email heather(dot)r(dot)melton(at)gmail(dot)com and I'll get it back to you lickety split.
- Ok, so I have a ride today that was split because I hit "DO COURSE" about 3 miles into it and started a new timer and mileage. So for my ride today there are 2 files, and 2 uploads. Is there a way to splice them together and have it display as only 1 ride? If not, I guess it's not the biggest issue, but if it's possible that would be great.
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Lake CX402
The flagship shoe from Lake, the CX402, sports a kangaroo leather upper and a fully moldable carbon fiber sole. Of course, that kind of luxurious custom shoe comes at a price and the CX402 carries a price tag of $530. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Lake CX402 sole
The CX402's sole can be remolded a number of times, so a rider can fine tune his fit from season to season, which can come in handy when transitioning from the thick socks of winter to the warmth of spring. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Lake MX237
Lake's mid-range MX237 has been a hit as a race-ready shoe under $300. At $280, with a carbon sole and a double-Boa closure, it's a sleeper in the shoe market, even if its orange color says otherwise. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Lake MX237 sole
The MX237 should get plenty of traction off-road. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Lake custom insole
Lake is now offering aftermarket custom insoles. The fiberglass insole retails for $60 and carries over many of the features of the carbon fiber insole, but is heavier and not quite as rigid. The carbon insole retails for $80. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Lake insole bottom
The custom insoles are intended to be used with any shoe, but Lake sees them being a big hit with the company's shoes lacking it custom soles, such as the MX237. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Xentis Speed 2.5 SL
Xentis showed off a prototype Speed 2.5 SL front wheel. The company claimed the pair of tubular hoops weighs in at 890 grams. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Xentis hub
Xentis said that a pair of its carbon hubs will weigh just 220 grams. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Scapin Anouk
Italian bike brand Scapin displayed its new budget-minded — or at least budget-minded for Scapin — Anouk carbon road bike. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Scapin Anouk head tube
The Anouk frameset will retail for $2,200. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Scapin Anouk complete bike
A Scapin Anouk with SRAM Force 22 and Mavic Ksyrium wheels will retail at $3,400. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Rolf Prima Ares 4
Rolf Prima redesigned its Ares 4 carbon wheels at the start of the year. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Rolf Prima Ares 4 cutaway
A cutaway of the Rolf Prima Ares 4 shows its stout shape. Clincher models sport a 27mm rim, and the tubular model has a 26mm rim at the brake track. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Rolf Prima hub
Rolf Prima designs its own hubs and has them manufactured by White Industries. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Rolf Prima hub cutaway
A cutaway of the Rolf Prima hub shows the innards. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Ergon saddles
Ergon covers the full spectrum of rider disciplines with its saddle offerings. From left to right, Ergon showcased its road, cyclocross, and enduro saddles at Sea Otter. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Shanks
U.S. cross-country champion Stephen Ettinger raced the XCO at Sea Otter, which can make for a busy morning for riders and mechanics alike. Here, Ettinger's mechanic Daimeon Shanks makes his way to the start, spare wheels, tools, and a sandwich in tow. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Ettinger pit
You can tell a lot about a mechanic from his tools. Shanks, who hails from Boulder, Colorado, had a neatly organized pit setup, despite being on the side of a car and motorcycle race track in California. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Cannondale pit
The Cannondale-Sho-Air pit was a bit more spread out on the side of the Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Cannondale tools
The Cannondale-Sho-Air mechanics had spare parts at the ready for Ryan Trebon and Co. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Specialized pit
This Specialized pit setup was pristine, likely better organized than most shop mechanics' setups. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Abbey Bike Tools Crombie
Abbey Bike Tools' Crombie cassette tool, chain whip, and bottom bracket tools are very popular in the pro mechanics' circle. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
Tech scenes from the 2014 Sea Otter Classic, Round 3: Specialized spare wheels
Spare Roval 29er hoops waited roadside, should Specialized riders need them. Photo: Logan VonBokel | VeloNews.com
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