High hopes for GreenEDGE in the Ardennes Classics

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This weekend sees the first of the 2012 Ardennes Classics, the Amstel Gold Race, take place in the Netherlands. While the race has been recently dominated by Belgian Philippe Gilbert, there are hopes of a win for Australian cycling fans.

Among a talented team, the overwhelming favourite for the GreenEDGE team must be Simon Gerrans. Already this year he has won the Australian Road race, the Tour Down Under and the fist monument of the season, the Milan-San Remo. In addition to the Amstel Gold, he will also compete in the third Ardennes Classic, Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

The 47th Amstel Gold Race will take place on the 15th of April in the southern part of the province of Limburg, Netherlands, over 256 kilometres.

It has 31 short but steep hills (hellingen in Dutch). Some are as little as 500 metres, but the longest is 4300 metres. Some hills are ascended multiple times, like the Cauberg. The Cauberg is 1200 metres long, with an average gradient of 5.8 percent and a maximum of 12.0 percent.

The only Australian to win this event is Phil Anderson back 1983, which is strange considering the race is sponsored by a brand of beer.

Simon Gerrans has declared this as his favourite race and has recent form, placing third in 2011, 7th in 2009 and 12th in 2008. Although GreenEDGE has not released its start list, it would be expected that a key man for Gerrans is fellow Victorian Simon Clarke.

Tom Boonen, this year’s Paris-Roubaix champion, will also race the Amstel Gold. Boonen, commenting on the ever-changing nature of the race, said, “you really need to know the route well if you are going to compete in the Amstel Gold Race”.

The route twists and turns and riders climb some hills multiple times, which generates some confusion. Also, many riders are interested in racing in this event because this year’s UCI World Road Championship will be on much the same roads (until Valkenburg) and onto a fixed circuit of ten laps that will include the Cauberg and Lange Raarberg.

A good showing will be very important for national selection for many riders from many nations. Imagine Simon Gerrans winning a rainbow jersey in the Australian colours. Which jersey would he wear?

Other Ardennes classics:
La Flèche Wallonne (the Walloon Arrow)

The 75th edition of the La Flèche Wallonne takes place on Wednesday, April 18th, in the Wallonia region of Belgium, from Charleroi to Huy (201 km). It has a road race in a large circuit, followed by a smaller circuit where the infamous Mur de Huy will be climbed three times during the route.

The Mur or “wall” of Huy is a 1.3 km climb on a 9.3 percent gradient. Cadel Evans won the La Flèche Wallonne in 2010, outclimbing Alberto Contador. It has a finish on-top of the Mur and is a very exciting race to watch.

Simon Gerrans has placed 22nd in 2011 and 8th in 2009, and while he is not listed on the team website as racing, I feel GreenEDGE may give him a go considering his form. Of course to race all three Ardennes classic might also be a great burden, and the team may decide to rest him to preserve him for the other events.

This is where Swiss rider Michael Albasini steps in. He recently won the Volta a Catalunya with two stage victories and has placed 7th in 2008, ninth in 2009, and 10th in 2010, showing good form in the climbing sections. He is not a pure climber but can punch hard on the more moderate mountain stages as seen in his stage 13 win at the Vuelta a España in 2011.

Liège–Bastogne–Liège
98th Liège–Bastogne–Liège will be raced on Sunday April 22nd in Belgium over 255 kilometres. It is the oldest professional bike race in the world and has the nickname “La Doyenne”.

This race is a monument of road racing, starting in Ans outside Liege, it is an out and back course that does not cover the same route. Most of the Col’s and Côte’s are in the last 100 kilometres. For those who don’t race, the continued climbing is very draining and smashes the legs. Lose time on climbs and you have to try to get back on the peloton, which is draining too!

Simon Gerrans has come sixth in 2009 and 12th in 2011. It would be stunning for GreenEDGE and Gerrans to win two monuments in one year.

Incidentally Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) is racing all three Ardennes classics provisionally to support Phillippe Gilbert who won all three in 2011. Gilbert, however, is not racing well and we may see Cadel take his opportunity, which would of course be welcomed by Australian cycling fans.

I will submit an article after each race. Let’s hope I can be talking about some more GreenEDGE victories!

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