Reigning champion Alexandre Vinokourov leads a growing list of contenders for victory at Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, where the Dutch hosts will be hoping that Michael Boogerd’s ship comes in.
Along with compatriot and Rabobank teammate Erik Dekker, the 31-year-old Dutchman is the most popular rider in the country, but since his only win here in 1999 he has had to stop short of the top step on his other three visits to the podium. Dekker has also won the race, in 2001.
Last year, “Boogie,” a stage winner on the 2002 Tour de France, had to shuffle with Lance Armstrong in the final kilometers before going on to fight for second place after Vinokourov took advantage of major changes to the circuit to claim his first Amstel win.
In what used to be a race for the pure sprinters, the Amstel – the fourth of this season’s 10 World Cup races – has been adapted to spread out the chances of victory.
Gone is the flat home straight that used to make it a sprinter’s paradise, replaced by the climb at Cauberg, to be tackled three times among a total of 31 climbs, which precedes the finish line of the 251.1km race.
This year, Vinokourov will be backed up by his solid T-Mobile team, but the Kazakh would do well to pay attention to Belgian Peter Van Petegem while he’s keeping tabs on the Rabobank boys.
|Strong young Swede|
impresses team, boss
Sweden’s Thomas Lovkvist will be given the chance of his short lifetime at this Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, the 250km fourth round of the World Cup.
The 20-year-old Lovkvist has proved a welcome revelation for manager Marc Madiot since joining the Fdjeux.com team this season, performing like a seasoned professional only months after joining his first pro team.
“I’ve never seen a first-year pro so strong,” Madiot told AFP in midweek after watching the Swede finish second in the Paris-Camembert semi-classic.
“He knows already how to ride, and is always at the front of the peloton. He’s calm, serious and so motivated that sometimes he trains too much.”
Lovkvist, who now lives in Nice, has already earned his spurs among his peers. He won the Circuit de la Sarthe before claiming the runner-up place a week later, and Madiot provided an anecdote from Paris-Camembert that shows the extent to which Lovkvist is regarded.
“When Thomas got a puncture in Paris-Camembert, everything sorted itself out straight away. I didn’t even have to give instructions over the radio. (Freddy) Bichot stopped and gave him his wheel, and (Cyril) Robin and (Jeremy) Roy brought him back to the front of the race.”
Still, Madiot, himself a former two-time winner of the toughest classic of them all, Paris-Roubaix, won’t rush his young protege into the Tour.
“There’s no chance of him competing at the Tour de France this year,” said Madiot. “He’ll ride the Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but for him it’s all about discovering races.”
Van Petegem’s World Cup season so far has been a pale imitation of this time last year when he had already claimed spectacular victories at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Having placed sixth in last week’s Roubaix after an untimely puncture in the closing kilometers, the Lotto team rider could avenge his lack of success on a circuit where he took the silver medal at the 1998 world road championships.
While Vinokourov will not be helped by team leader Jan Ullrich, he will have plenty of support from Russian Serguei Ivanov, who came second in 2002, Germans Matthias Kessler, fifth in 2003, and Steffen Wesemann, who won this season’s Tour of Flanders, and Italian Daniele Nardello.
The other contenders for the race are Quick Step’s reigning two-time World Cup champion Paolo Bettini, and his compatriot from Fassa Bortolo Michele Bartoli – the last Italian winner in 2002.
However, in a race the Dutch have taken pride in winning most (17 times), the Italians do not have history on their side, having scored only two wins in the past 38 years. –Copyright 2004/AFP
World Cup standings (after 3 of 10 races):
1. Steffen Wesemann (G), T-Mobile, 110pts
2. Oscar Freire (Sp), Rabobank, 103
3. Magnus Backstedt (Swe), Alessio-Bianchi, 100
4. Leif Hoste (B), Lotto-Domo, 84
5. Tristan Hoffman (Ned), Team CSC, 70
6. Erik Zabel (G), T-Mobile, 70
7. Leon van Bon (Ned), Lotto-Domo, 68
8. Peter Van Petegem (B), Lotto-Domo, 58
9. George Hincapie (USA), U.S. Postal, 53
10. Erik Dekker (Ned), Rabobank, 51
11. Roger Hammond (GB), MrBookmaker, 50
12. Dave Bruylandts (B), Chocolate Jacques, 50
13. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Cofidis, 50
14. Johan Museeuw (B), Quick Step, 47
15. Paolo Bettini (I), Quick Step, 44
16. Romans Vainsteins (Lat), Lampre, 43
17. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), Fassa Bortolo, 40
18. Frank Hoj (Den), Team CSC, 40
19. Alessandro Petacchi (I), Fassa Bortolo, 40
20. Andreas Klier (G), T-Mobile, 37