The 2014 cobbled classics are behind us and therefore the cycling world’s attention now turns away from the big powerhouses of the peloton and back to the featherweight climbers. The Ardennes Classics are up next with three exciting races in store and barely a metre of flat road on the parcours.
Starting this Sunday (April 20th) with the Amstel Gold Race in the Limburg region of the Netherlands, the peloton will then tackle La Flèche Wallonne midweek on Wednesday 23rd before the climax of Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 27th.
The Ardennes Classics have been a happy hunting ground for Canyon riders in the past, and this year will be no different. With the likes of Joaquim Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde headlining Katusha and Movistar Team respectively, both squads possess the races’ big favourites and former winners. To deliver their captain in the ideal position, Katusha will rely on riders like Dani Moreno and Giampaolo Caruso, both of whom could also have a shot at victory. Meanwhile, Movistar Team will find strong climbing backup in Igor Anton and JJ Rojas. Alongside the Grand Tours, the Ardennes Classics stand out as the biggest objectives in many riders’ seasons, especially for climbing specialists. Competition is therefore guaranteed to be fierce.
Peloton tackles the Dutch Alps in Amstel Gold
Contrary to the beliefs of many, the Netherlands are not entirely flat, as will be proven this Sunday as the WorldTour takes on the 250 km route of Amstel Gold that will force them up and down all day long. The centrepiece of the race is the Cauberg. With an 11% gradient at its steepest point it will feature three times in the race pm Sunday, the last of which comes with just over 1 km to go to the finish, providing a tempting launchpad for anyone with a bit of zip left in the legs to take off solo towards the line.
Valverde was second here last year in addition to winning silver at the 2012 UCI Road World Championships on a similar course. With this in mind he has to be considered the most dangerous rider in the line-up having shown outstanding form so far this season, with seven victories and counting. The Spaniard not only climbs with the very best in the world, he is also capable of out-sprinting his rivals at the end of hours of tough racing.
Fourth triumph in a row for Canyon on the Mur de Huy?
Following in the tyre tracks of Philippe Gilbert in 2011 and Joaquim Rodríguez in 2012, Dani Moreno was the third rider in a row to skip away from the competition on the fierce gradients of the Mur de Huy and take Fléche Wallonne aboard the Aeroad CF. Could it be someone from Katusha or Movistar Team to make it four in a row next Wednesday? That depends on how they deal with the final challenge of the race. The Mur de Huy features three times on the 198 km route and hits a jaw-dropping 26% at its steepest point. The race usually comes down to an agonising slow motion bunch sprint as the riders gasp for breath and fight the lactic acid in their legs as they approach the summit of the wall.
Dani Moreno favours these kind of brutal uphill finishes and will be particularly motivated to make it two wins in a row as he tackles the race on a custom painted Aeroad CF in honour of his victory last year. Be sure to keep an eye out for it!
Rodríguez eyes historic 100th edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Liège-Bastogne-Liège is one of the five Monuments of cycling and takes pride of place as the headline event of the Ardennes racing week. Nicknamed La Doyenne, or the “old lady”, it is the longest running bike race in the world with the first edition taking place way back in 1892. This year will mark the 100th edition, providing even further incentive to the riders. Between them and victory stand 260 km and 10 famous categorised ascents, including La Redoute, a name that is known throughout the sport.
Joaquim Rodríguez has made it perfectly clear that alongside the Giro d’Italia, this is the race he wants to win the most in 2014. The Catalan came agonisingly close last year after attacking in the finale and dropping all the favourites, only to get counter-attacked by young Irish rider, Dan Martin.
A rider with a track record at La Doyenne is Alejandro Valverde, who won the race back in 2006 and 2008, and rounded out the podium in 2013. With his form so far in 2014, the Spaniard stands a great chance of becoming a member of the exclusive club of three-time winners.
Three races and three huge opportunities for Canyon ProTeams to go for glory – it’s going to be a great week!