The last of the Spring Classics is upon us this Sunday, as the superstars of pro-cycling take to roads in the hilliest parts of The Netherlands for this year’s Amstel Gold race. Despite the hills, Amstel is not only a climber’s race, and it will take a strong all-around rider to make the long climb to the top of the podium.
The forecast calls for light rain and cool temperatures, which would seem to put an ace in the hand of a rain-loving Lance Armstrong. In the past few years, Amstel has been Armstrong’s seasonal coming-out party: the first race of the year where, as a test of his fitness heading into the summer, Lance shows up to give it a real shot. Word on the street is that Armstrong is obsessed with winning this race, and his narrow miss in last year’s Amstel Gold when he was out-sprinted by Erik Dekker, and similar loss to Boogerd in 1999, will fuel that drive. USPS brings a strong team in support, with top 20 Fleche-Wallonne finisher and all around strong rider Christian Vandevelde, super domestique “Chechu” Rubiera, Floyd Landis, the ex-mountian biker with strong time trailing and climbing abilities, and George Hincapie, whose strength and consistency we have seen in every classic race this year. Hincapie has ridden well and in the breaks here before, and will be looking for World Cup points as well.
Though Armstrong’s form last week in Liege was weak, even by his own account, and he was not there at the finish, he has said that he couldn’t be more motivated for this race. Who could doubt that the three time vanquisher of the Tour de France, who started racing into form this season with Milan-San Remo, has the mojo to win Amstel if his mind has been set in that direction?
The Home Team, Rabobank, boasts 1999 Amstel Gold winner Michael Boogerd, and podium threat Markus Zberg who finished third in Amstel 2000. There are teams with bigger lists of palmares for this race, but home field advantage may play a roll and give them added incentive to perform for the fans, who will be out in droves to support them.
Paolo Bettini has got to be feeling pretty confident at this moment. The winner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege is in great from, and will be at home on this course. Mapei fields a strong team, with several riders strong and in form enough to play a role, including Italian Champion Daniele Nardello, Tour of Flanders victor Andrea Tafi, and World Champion sprint king Oscar Friere, who has the power to make it to the line in this race. Amstel did finish in a sprint won by Eric Zabel in 2000, so none of the sprinters can be entirely discounted. Mapei has won two WC races this spring; can they make it three?
Lotto-Adecco brings Fleche-Wallonne winner Mario Aerts, Serge Baguet, who finished third in Amstel last year, and Peter Van Petegem, who currently sits in 5th place in the World Cup Standings, and has shown good form all Spring long.
Domo-Farm Frites can never be counted out, and Johan Museeuw won this race in 1995. He is likely to have recovered from Paris-Roubaix, and is within striking distance of the World Cup lead. 2001 Paris-Roubaix winner Servais Knaven, Axel Merckx and this year’s American Classics revelation Fred Rodriguez, wearing the Stars and Stripes may have a part to play before the end of the day.
Michele Bartoli, riding for Fassa Bartolo has been on the podium in Amstel Gold before, and though he has been sidelined by injury and team politics in the past year, his form is coming up, and his day is surely coming. Alessandro Petacchi has been a winning machine earlier this year, and would be a challenge to anyone in a sprint finish.
Sprinter Deluxe, Eric Zabel takes the start, and is capable of making it over the climbs to contest the win. Zabel and his Telecom power train have not seemed to be at full strength this year, but they are picking up speed. Alexander Vinokurov, Andreas Kloden, and one of the heroes of the last two runnings of Paris-Roubaix, Steffen Wesemann round out a strong team.
There’s a lot more talent in the field, including Landbouwkrediet-Colnago’s Yaroslav Popovych: it will be interesting to see how this great prospect performs, and Bankgiroloterij-Batavus will have veteran double stage TDF winner Bart Voskamp who has been showing a little form this season.
Lance may be out for the win, but he does face some stiff opposition from a deep and talented field!
Michael Boogerd, Jan Boven, Bram De Groot, Karsten Kroon, Marc Lotz, Geert Verheyen, Marc Wauters, Markus Zberg.
Paolo Bettini, Pedro Horrillo Munoz, Fabian De Waele, Stefano Zanini, Oscar Friere, Daniele Nardello, Andrea Tafi, Luca Paolini.
Peter Van Petegem, Mario Aerts, Serge Baguet, Aart Vierhouten, Stefan Van Dijk, Christophe Brandt, Kurt Van Lancker, Guennadi Mikhailov.
Michele Bartoli, Ivan Basso, Sergei Ivanov, Kim Kirchen, Nicola Loda, Alesssandro Petacchi, Roberto Petito, Matteo Tosatto.
Dave Bruylandts, Enrico Cassani, Servais Knaven, Tomas Konecny, Johan Museeuw, Axel Merckx, Fred Rodriguez, Max Von Heeswijk.
Peter Farazijn, Claude Lamour, Nico Mattan, Chris Peers, Jo Planckaert, Jean-Michel Tessier, Guido Trentin, Cedric Vasseur.
Rolf Aldag, Udo Bolts, Jens Heppner, Kai Hundertmarck, Matthias Kessler, Andreas Klier, Steffen Wesemann, Erik Zabel.
Dariusz Baranowski, Thomas Brozyna, Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni, Jose Vincente Garcia Acosta, Eladio Jimenez Sanchez, Pablo Lastras Garcia, Francisci Mancebo Perez, Francisco Javier Vila Errandonea.
Pietro Caucchiolli, Laurant Dufaux, Andrea Ferrigato, Martin Hvastija, Ruslan Ivanov, Chritian Moreni, Dario Pieri, Aleksandr Shefer.
Niki Aebersold, Anton Chantyr, Bekim Christensen, Mauro Gianetti, Fabrizio Guidi, Rol Huser, Thorsten Rund, Alex Zulle.
Acqua & Sapone - Cantina Tollo
Gabriele Colombo, Claudio Astolfi, Martin Derganc, Christian Gasperoni, Alexandr Kolobnev, Miguel Angel Martin, Guido Trenti, Santo Gonzalez Capilla.
US Postal Service
Lance Armstrong, David Klinger, George Hincapie, Floyd Landis, Pavel Padrnos, Jose Luis Rubiera Vigil, Christian Vandevelde.
Saeco - Longoni Sport
Danilo Di luca, Igor Astarloa, Mirko Celestino, Salvatore Commeso, Biago Conte, Torsten Nitsche, Fabio Sacchi, Alessandro Spezialetti.
Angel Vicioso Arcos, Jose Enrique Gutierrez Cataluna, Antonio Tauler, Jose Angel Vidal Martinez, Alejandro Valverde Belmonte, Constantino Zaballa Gutierrez.
Phonak Hearing Systems
Roger Beuchat, Matthias Buxhofer, Christian Charriere, Martin Elminger, Bert Grabash, Daniel Schnider, Massimo Strazzer, Sven Teutenberg.
CSC - Tiscali
Geert Van Bondt, Tristan Hoffman, Paul Van Hyfte, Nicholas Jalabert, Danny Jonasson, Bjarke Nielsen, Jakob Storm Piil, Martin Rittsel.
Gianni Faresin, Federico Morini, Ellis T+Rastelli, Davide Rebellin, Ronny Scholz, Marcel Strauss, Fabian Wegmann, Peter Wrolich.
Eddy Mazzoleni, Gianluca Bortolami, Gabriele Balducci, Paolo Bossoni, Diego Ferrari, Mauro Gerosa, Andrej Hauptman.
Lampre - Daikin
Raimondas Rumsas, Rubens Bertogliati, Alessandro Cortinovis, Ludo Dierckxsens, Gabriele Missaglia, Zbigniew Spruch, Maximilian Sciandri, Johan Verstrepen.
Dario Andriotto, Bo Hamburger, Eddy Serri, Sebastiano Scotti, Mauro Zinetti, Corrado Serina, Antonio Salomone, Mario Manzoni.
Laurent Brochard, Gilles Bouvard, Cyril Dessel, Christophe Edaleine, Stepane Goubert, Patrice Haglund, Laurent Lefevre, Eddy Seignuer.
BankGiroloterij - Batavas
Bert Hiemstra, Vincent Van der Kooij, Bram Schmitz, Corey Sweet, Jan Van Velzen, Remco Van Der Den, Bart Voskamp, Pieter Vries.
Rolf Sorenson, Oscar Cavagnis, Lorenzo Bernucci, Yaroslav Popovych, Michel Van Haecke, Marc Streel, Filip Meirhaeghe, Kurt Van Landeghem.
Palmans - Collstrop
Thierry de Groot, Roger Hammond, Bjorn Leukemans, Geert Omloop, Erwin Thijs, Hendrik Van Dyck, Wim Vansevenant, Peter Wuyts.
Marcus Ljungqvist, Kurt-Asle Arvesen, Lennie Kristensen, Rene Jorgensen, Michael Skelde, Allan Johansen, Bjornar Vestol, Manu L'Hoir.