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With Philippe Gilbert ruled out of remaining Ardennes Classics, who are the new favourites?

Josh Cunningham
18 Apr 2017

The recent Amstel Gold Race winner has suffered a torn kidney, but there's a string of contenders to take his place as favourite

Philippe Gilbert has been ruled out of the remaining Ardennes Classics after suffering a torn kidney during the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday

The Quick-Step Floors rider won the race in fine style, joining a strong breakaway before attacking on the final climb with Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) and out-sprinting him for the win. 

However, when peeing for dope control after the race, Gilbert's urine contained blood, and being that he was also suffering from back pain, the Belgian was taken to hospital. 

'When I crashed I felt pain,' Gilbert said of a crash he had early in the race, 'but once I remounted and continued the race things became better and better and the pain disappeared.

'Unfortunately, after the finish, the lower back pain returned, so together with the team doctor I decided to go to the hospital for a check-up.'

After being examined it emerged that Gilbert had suffered a torn kidney, and so as an unfortunate result for the in-form rider, who as well as the Amstel Gold Race, has also won the Tour of Flanders, Driedaagse De Panne, and placed second at E3 Harelbeke and Dwaars door Vlaanderen so far this spring, he will not be able to race at Fleche Wallonne or Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

In 2011 Gilbert won all three of the Ardennes Classics, and after his successes so far this spring he was the odds-on favourite for many at the two remaining races of the Ardennes trio. 

Gilbert has provided animation and panache to what has been a thoroughly enjoyable Classics season so far, with early attacks and long breakaways, so his presence on the start line will be missed. 

But with the man of the moment absent, who can we expect to be the men to watch at Fleche Wallonne (19th April) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (23rd April) this week?

Alejandro Valverde - Movistar 

Prior to Gilbert's resurgent 2017 form, Valverde would likely have held the title of favourite for both Fleche and Liege. He's won the former for the last three years, and holds two Liege crowns to his name too. Valverde's strengths as a rider were made for the Ardennes, and despite being 36 he'll almost definitely be up there.

Daniel Martin - Quick-Step Floors

The Irishman is almost always in the top ten at Fleche Wallonne, if not the podium. With a successful stage racing campaign so far in 2017 at Volta au Algarve, Paris-Nice and Catalunya, Martin should be on form for Ardennes week, and with Gilbert and Julian Alaphilippe (another would-be contender ruled out with injury) out of his Quickstep team, Martin will be the outright leader.

Michal Kwiatkowski - Team Sky

2nd at Amstel behind Gilbert, Kwiatkowski looked arguably the second-strongest rider in the race. The way he bridged across to the leading group was impressive, and left riders like Valverde and Greg Van Avermaet unable to keep pace. With sprint victories over riders like Peter Sagan in the past, the Pole could have the explosiveness to win at Fleche, but victory is probably more likely at Liege. 

Romain Bardet - Ag2r La Mondiale

Bardet has been slowly riding himself into form throughout 2017 with a calendar that has consisted entirely of stage races in the Middle East, then Paris-Nice, Catalunya and Pais Vasco. He's been relatively quiet so far, but having targeted Liege it would take a fool to rule the Frenchman out.

Michael Albasini - Orica Scott

Similarly to Valverde, Swiss Albasini is 36 years old - but also similarly to Valverde, he is still very much competitive in hillier, puncheur-friendly races. Third behind Gilbert and Kwiatkowski at Amstel on Sunday, a big result from Albasini in the coming days is entirely possible. 

Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Samuel Sanchez (BMC), Michael Matthews (Sunweb), Michael Woods (Cannondale) and Rui Costa (UAE Fly Emirates) could be worthy outside bets. And for a total - but not inconceivable - surprise, Lilian Calmejane of Direct Energie