Insatiable Tadej Pogacar. Two weeks after his demonstration at the Tour of Flanders, the Slovenian returns to competition on Sunday with the ambition of winning the Amstel Gold Race, of which he is necessarily the big favorite.
“My spring is already a great success but I’m still hungry,” warns the man who has already raised his arms in victory ten times since the start of the year.
From Michal Kwiatkowski (outgoing winner) to Benoît Cosnefroy, passing by Tiesj Benoot or Tom Pidcock, the other candidates for victory have been warned: if the double winner of the Tour de France announced his participation only a few days ago, this n is not to play second fiddle.
And in the absence of the Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel (winner in Sanremo and Roubaix) and the Belgian Wout Van Aert, who ended their spring last Sunday evening in the Hell of the North, Pogacar will have to carry alone this time the sign of the man to beat.
The only Dutch classic on the calendar matches his profile. Sinuous, nervous, with thirty-three often short and dry climbs over 253 kilometers that twist the cardinal points on the zig-zag of Limburg.
“I only raced it once and I remember it was a long and difficult race, with a lot of climbs,” recalls the leader of the UAE team. Four years ago, when he was still only a neo-pro who was said the most good after success at the Tour de l’Avenir, he had not reached the finish in Valkenburg.
– “The condition has not disappeared” –
Before the reconnaissance of the last 75 kilometers of the course on Friday morning, “I did some good training sessions at home in Monaco, explains Mauro Gianetti’s protege. I have the feeling that the condition of recent weeks has not not disappeared. I want to stay focused until Liège-Bastogne-Liège”, continues the one who could also line up at the start of the Flèche wallonne on Wednesday.
To upset the Slovenian, the leaders of the Ineos formation will not be too many. Winner last year and in 2015, the Polish Michal Kwiatowski will be associated with the Briton Tom Pidcock, winner of the Strade Bianche at the start of the season but then slowed down by a concussion.
At Jumbo-Visma, in the absence of Wout Van Aert bruised by his third place and a cruel scenario in Paris-Roubaix, the Belgian Tiejs Benoot will have free time.
Third last year, the recent winner of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne “loves the Amstel which is a bit like a Tour of Flanders without the cobblestones”.
In the absence of Julian Alaphilippe, badly recovered from a fall at Ronde, Benoît Cosnefroy will be the main French chance of victory. And not least. The leader of the AG2R-Citroën team, third in the Brabant Arrow on Wednesday, was declared the winner twelve months ago before being placed second by a millimeter behind Kwiatkowski.
“Doing better” is his goal, convinced that Pogacar will not be unbeatable.
“When the fantastic three (Van Aert, Van der Poel, Pogacar) are together, we know that it will be one of the three who will win. When there is only one, it is possible to beat her” , assures the U23 world champion in 2017.
“The last difficulty (the Cauberg at km 234) is located far from the finish. Everyone will want to take the wheel of Pogi and it will not be easy for a single man to make the difference”.