Three recent winners of the Ardennes Classics have warned the Big Five that they are not “unbeatable” and that they too should not be discounted in the upcoming trio of races.
With just a fortnight to go until the start of the hillier Belgian and Dutch Classics, all the attention is once again focused on the successes of Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe, Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič.
But ahead of Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, riders who have proven victorious in the races in the not-so-distant past have warned their rivals that they too will be in contention to win.
Winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège three seasons ago, Bob Jungels told Cycling Weekly: “One day races are really quite hard to predict because it comes down to one man in the end so it’s not that they are unbeatable.
“We saw it in Milan-San Remo: sometimes if you anticipate or try something else it helps.
“Like Jasper [Stuyven] has said before he won San Remo, nobody is unbeatable. Sometimes you have to find a way to help yourself.”
Michael Valgren won the 2018 edition of Amstel Gold, and after building form and condition at the Volta a Catalunya, he said that he was confident of denying victory to the five.
“These are five guys that everybody looks to, so we have to take advantage of that,” the Danish EF Education-Nippo rider said.
“I think obviously they are some of the best riders we have ever seen, I am pretty sure of saying that, but that means they can only be disappointed when they don’t win.
“They are exceptional riders and we put too much pressure on them but that’s a good thing for us. I think I can do well there.”
Ag2r Citroën’s Jungels, who is currently nursing a sore back but “is very sure I will be in shape for the Ardennes”, agreed that the lack of talk around him can only play in his favour.
“It’s sometimes good to have pressure from the outside, but with these guys who everyone is talking about, there’s not really anyone talking about me and others,” he added. “They have a certain class, of course, but I hope to be back in the front line.”
Daryl Impey of Israel-Start Up Nation has finished fifth five times at Amstel Gold and he said: “There’s plenty ways to skin a cat. Sometimes the favourites mark themselves out and it will give guys like myself the opportunity.”
Just last autumn, Marc Hirschi won La Flèche Wallonne, and after starting his 2021 season later due to a minor hip injury, the UAE Team Emirates 22-year-old is backing himself for further glory.
“Catalunya, for sure, was a pretty hard well but I will be in good shape for the Basque Country [his next race],” he said.
“When my shape is better and my legs are good, for sure I will try something. It’s hard to tell [how he will be for the Ardennes] but I’m confident I’m going to be in good shape.”