Michal Kwiatkowski won't have it all his own way if he want to win the Amstel Gold Race again on Sunday as a number of other riders will also be gunning for glory
With the longer finish after the ascent of the Cauberg, Kwiatkowski managed to regain his composure and a bit of energy after struggling to match Philippe Gilber on the climb to win the sprint for the line.
He’s tasted victory for Sky already at E3 Harelbeke, showing his climbing legs are there, it’s just a case of whether he can master the Amstel Gold’s hills once more.
Young Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe was the surprise package of the 2015 Ardennes, finishing second to Alejandro Valverde at both Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, while finishing seventh in AGR.
He was struck down with mononucleosis over the winter, which set his progress back a bit and his Etixx-Quick Step team warned us not to expect too much from him this spring.
The 23-year-old only has 15 race days in his legs so far, but showed he’s already pretty strong by finishing eighth in De Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday.
It seems that Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) can target pretty much any race he fancies this season. He led most of the way through Paris-Nice, he wanted to win Milan-San Remo and now he’s going for the Ardennes.
He came fifth in De Brabantse Pijl and has no issue with hills. He showed last year at the AGR that he’s a dangerous rider, following a surging Gilbert up the Cauberg – the only rider that could match the Belgian.
Matthews’ sprint is normally what sets him apart, but he couldn’t go faster than Kwiatkowski last year and had to settle for third. Will experience help him move up the podium this year?
He’s been ill, he’s got a broken finger and his form hasn’t been great for a while, but Philippe Gilbert remains a favourite for these Ardennes races.
He’s won the AGR three times – most recently in 2014 – and still has that nous to get away from the group on the Cauberg.
Unfortunately, the long section after the final ascent of the Cauberg to the finish line doesn’t really play into his hands any more, with the faster riders more than capable of catching him up and out-sprinting him to the line.
Orica-GreenEdge rarely go into a race with only one card to play and after Matthews their best bet is with Simon Gerrans.
He’s finished third three times in the past five editions, so he knows these Dutch hills pretty well but has never managed to translate that into a win.
Gerrans and Matthews had a bit of a dispute at the World Championships last year when it wasn’t clear who the protected rider should be, but will they sprint against each other again on Sunday?
A win for Enrico Gasparotto would be well received for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s always great to see a Pro Continental rider sticking it to the WorldTour boys. But also his team, Wanty-Groupe Gobert could do with something to celebrate after a torrid few weeks after the death of Antoine Demoitie.
Gasparotto is a genuine contender, having finished in the top 10 last year. He also won this race back in 2012 when racing with Astana.
He finished second to Petr Vakoc at De Brabantse Pijl, so is clearly in decent nick and you can get some pretty good odds on him with most bookmakers
Simon Geschke is actually targeting this race, which is not necessarily something you’ll hear many of the other Ardennes riders claiming.
The Giant-Alpecin man finished sixth in this race back in 2014 and would love to improve on that.
He doesn’t win much, but his victory at the Tour de France last year was filled with such emotion that you’d love to see him win a big one-day race as well.
Geschke won’t find it easy, though, with Tom Dumoulin and Warren Barguil also in the Giant-Alpecin team for AGR.
I feel a bit ‘Carlton Kirby’ for putting Fabio Felline in this list because the fact is I think he’s a decent rider and have a hunch he might come good in this race.
Trek-Segafredo are sending Bauke Mollema, Ryder Hesjedal and Frank Schleck to AGR, but they’re not going to do anything noteworthy.
Felline, though, can climb hills and sprint with the best of them – like Matthews – so it would be interesting to see what would happen if he made it all the way to the end in the front group.
Looking at the Movistar squad, it looks strong but without Alejandro Valverde there’s no nailed-on leader.
The Izagirre brothers are very good riders in stage races but they’ve not done anything in the Classics to suggest they’ll do anything good on Sunday.
So Dani Moreno – winner of the Flèche Wallonne in 2013 – could be their man to go for the win. He’s only ever had one top 10 result at AGR, which somewhat undermines my choice here…but trust me, he’ll come good.
Roman Kreuziger won the AGR back in 2013, but I’m not really convinced he’s in a great place to do it again.
During his time at Tinkoff he’s become more of a pure climber and has seen his results at Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege improve and his results in AGR go a bit downhill.
He’s in this list as a nod to his status of a previous winner, not an endorsement of his ability to do it all again.