Hot off its best-ever cobblestoned classics result, with Jens Keukeleire’s sixth-place finish at Paris-Roubaix, Aussie outfit Orica-GreenEdge rolls into the Ardennes classics with renewed confidence.
The team will carry momentum from the Roubaix performance into the Ardennes, where it has traditionally done very well. Simon Gerrans, who is back from an injury, is the defending champion at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Gerrans, however, is still riding into form, and Orica will be backing Michael Matthews for Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race.
“The Ardennes has been a really good hunting ground for us since our inception,” sport director Matt White said in a team release. “We are confident Michael will be very competitive for us again on Sunday. It’s a course that suits his characteristics, we have a really strong team to support him and he has shown good form with some early season wins.”
Matthews, who was third at Milano-Sanremo and who won stages at both Paris-Nice and the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), will be the team’s best option. Gerrans recently completed his first block of racing following a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the Australian national championships and the Santos Tour Down Under. Other riders in top form will be Daryl Impey and Michael Albasini.
“Amstel Gold Race is like the Tour of Flanders with no pavé,” White said. “There are a number of crucial sections, it’s a very nervous, technical race, narrow roads and a lot of turning and changing of direction.”
“For us as well, we have taken this core classics group up to the Ardennes for the last three years, so they are attuned to the demands of the race, these guys work seamlessly together and it makes a huge difference.”
White identifies the final climb, which has seen the race won in recent years by solo or two-man moves, as crucial.
“The Cauberg, which is the last climb of the day, takes you to just outside the final kilometer of the race, is one where the race is certainly lost,” White said.
“The wind when you get to the top will usually have an effect on the finish of the race. If it’s a tailwind, the attacks of the favorites can stick. But if it’s a block headwind, usually a bigger group can come back together. The usual favorites are Dan Martin, Joaquim Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde, Michal Kwiatkowski and three-time winner Philippe Gilbert. They are the guys who I see will play it out on that last climb.”