Amstel Gold Race 2016: six riders who could win on Sunday

Team Sky's Michal Kwiatkowski rolls out as defending champion

Defending champion Michal Kwiatkowski leads the contenders for the 51st Amstel Gold Race on Sunday (April 17), as attention turns to the Ardennes Classics.

Kwiatkowski won as world champion 12 months ago, beating Alejandro Valverde – and with the Spaniard opting to miss the race this year, Kwiatkowski will be among the favourites again.

But the 34 short, steep climbs of the race – which is centred on four ascents of the Cauberg – ensure the race is often an open affair, and a whole host of contenders will bid to dethrone the Pole.

We’ve picked out six of the best to keep a close eye on, so who will be celebrating with a hard-earned pint of Amstel Gold on the podium come Sunday afternoon?

Kwiatkowski celebrates on the podium with a pint of race sponsor Amstel Gold’s finest in 2015 but who’ll be celebrating this year? (pic: Sirotti)

Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)

Michal Kwiatkowski wears dossard number one, having won last year’s race in the rainbow while riding for Etixx-QuickStep.

And he starts this year’s race with a Classics win already under his belt at Team Sky, having triumphed at E3 Harelbeke on the cobbles.

Michal Kwiatkowski celebrates after beating Peter Sagan to victory at E3 Harelbeke (pic: Sirotti)

The Pole heads a strong Sky line-up, with in-form Sergio Henao – runner-up at the Tour of the Basque Country and a regular top-ten finisher in the Ardennes Classics – also in the ranks.

Kwiatkowski enjoys the race, having finished fourth, fifth and first in the last three editions, and the 25-year-old will be keen to lay down a big marker with Liege-Bastogne-Liege – and the chance to end Team Sky’s Monuments duck – just around the corner.

Amstel Gold Race 2015: winner
2016 best results: E3 Harelbeke – winner; Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana, Trofeo Pollenca-Port de Andratx – 2nd; Tirreno-Adriatico – third on stage six, eighth overall

Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep)

Young Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe announced himself in a big way at the Ardennes Classics in 2015, with runners-up spots at both La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Still just 23, the Etixx-QuickStep man was also seventh at the Amstel Gold Race and started his Classics season this year with another top-ten place at De Brabantse Pijl.

Julian Alaphilippe is one of Etixx-QuickStep’s young riders forging a reputation in these races (pic: Sirotti)

That race was won by team-mate Petr Vakoc, another of the Belgian super team’s rising stars and another big contender for the Ardennes Classics, having only made his Amstel Gold Race debut last year.

But Alaphilippe, a month older than his Czech team-mate, is the one with pedigree in these races and – while his form to date has been nothing to shout about, he has proved already he can step it up at this time of year.

Amstel Gold Race 2015: seventh
2016 best results: De Brabantse Pijl – eighth

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE)

Aussie rouleur Michael Matthews has emerged as a strong contender for the Spring Classics in recent years, and reaffirmed that with a top-five finish at De Brabantse Pijl this week.

The 25-year-old was fifth there, and will now bid to improve on last year’s third-place at the Amstel Gold Race.

Michael Matthews was third in 2015 and Orica-GreenEDGE have strength in depth for the Amstel Gold Race (pic: Sirotti)

Matthews has been in good form this season too, with a strong showing at Paris-Nice bringing two stage wins and the points classification, alongside several days in the yellow jersey, while he also won the Vuelta Ciclista a La Rioja.

Buoyed by Mathew Hayman’s Paris-Roubaix win, Orica-GreenEDGE are on a high too and with Simon Gerrans – a three-time podium finisher at the Amstel Gold Race – they have plenty of options.

In fact, thanks to Gerrans and Matthews, Orica-GreenEDGE have been on the podium in each of the last three seasons – now they just need to claim the top step.

Amstel Gold Race 2015: third
2016 best results: Paris-Nice – two stage wins, points classification; Vuelta Ciclista a La Rioja – winner; De Brabantse Pijl – fifth

Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing)

Philippe Gilbert has been King of the Cauberg in recent years, winning the Amstel Gold Race three times and also bagging the rainbow jersey when the World Championships came to the area.

But the Belgian has suffered a season disrupted by illness and injury so far, abandoning Paris-Nice with flu, missing Milan-San Remo and then missing De Brabantse Pijl with a fractured finger.

Philippe Gilbert: King of the Cauberg (pic: Sirotti)

His latest injury came after an altercation with a car while out training, but Fast Phil has been given the nod to start in Sunday’s race.

BMC Racing have strength in depth mind, with Samuel Sanchez always active in the finale and Ben Hermans a winner at De Brabantse Pijl in 2015.

Gilbert has become synonymous with the Ardennes Classics since first winning the Amstel Gold Race in 2010 though, so you can expect more fireworks on the Cauberg from him.

Amstel Gold Race 2015: tenth
2016 best results: Vuelta Ciclista a la Region de Murcia – winner; Volta Limburg Classic – third

Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal)

While the 2013 Clasica San Sebastian remains Tony Gallopin’s only major Classic victory, the Frenchman has gone from strength to strength since joining Lotto-Soudal at the end of that year.

Third at De Brabantse Pijl in 2014, Gallopin was then a top-ten finisher at both that race and the Amstel Gold Race last year and returned to the De Brabantse Pijl podium this week.

Tony Gallopin has emerged as a strong contender for the Ardennes Classics (pic: Sirotti)

Gallopin, with top-ten finishes at Paris-Nice and the Volta ao Algarve, is starting to forge a reputation in stage races too, but his penchant for attacking makes him an ideal candidate for the Ardennes Classics.

Team-mate Tim Wellens is likely to be active as ever, too, while Jelle Vanendert has twice been runner-up in the Amstel Gold Race. In short, Lotto-Soudal have plenty of options and will be as attacking as ever on Sunday.

Amstel Gold Race 2015: sixth
2016 best results: Etoile de Besseges – second overall; Volta ao Algarve – sixth overall; Paris-Nice – eighth overall; De Brabantse Pijl – third

Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty-Groupe Gobert)

Winner in 2012, Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) has enjoyed the Amstel Gold Race in recent years, having never been outside of the top ten since that victory.

And the Italian takes plenty of confidence into this year’s race too, having finished second at De Brabantse Pijl – Wanty-Groupe Gobert’s first UCI podium in Belgium.

Enrico Gasparotto finished second at De Brabantse Pijl and has enjoyed the Amstel Gold Race in recent years (pic: Sirotti)

With three top-tens to his name at the Volta a Catalunya too, Gasparotto looks to have hit form at the perfect time for a serious shot at the Ardennes Classics.

He confirmed as much after De Brabantse Pijl, stating: “It makes me confident for the Amstel Gold Race. I am satisfied with my current condition and can confidently look to the Ardennes Classics.”

Amstel Gold Race 2015: eighth
2016 best results: De Brabantse Pijl – second

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