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Riders to watch at the Ardennes Classics

Joe Robinson
13 Apr 2018

The riders most likely to succeed at the hilly classics of Belgium and the Netherlands

The Cobbled Classics ended last weekend with World Champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) finally taking victory on the pavé of Paris-Roubaix. It rounded off an intriguing start to the Spring which saw Quick-Step Floors dominate and some, like Team Sky, capitulate.

Now we head into the second half of Spring cycling with the Ardennes Classics, three hilly one-day races around the Netherlands and Belgium which give opportunities to the plucky grimpuers of the pack.

Starting with the easiest – and we use that word lightly – of the three this Sunday at Amstel Gold, the attention will then turn to the gruesome Mur de Huy next Wednesday at Fleche Wallonne before the third Monument of the season, Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

This trio of races suit a rider that can manage their effort across a multitude of short, steep climbs while having enough punch at the end of a long day to race to victory. Usually, we're talking the kind of riders who are talented one week stage racers and Grand Tour contenders.

Prime among those is Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). It's nine victories and counting for the veteran Spaniard this season, who will be looking to equal the great Eddy Merckx with five Liege victories this year. 

Below, we have boiled down the riders mist likely to light up the Ardennes and fight for victory over this next week of racing.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

Valverde is 37 years old but despite a major injury at last year's Tour de France, he shows no sign of slowing down.

Returning in 2018, he has already amassed nine victories and is yet to finish outside the top 50 of any race. Add this to the fact that he has won five of the last nine Ardennes Classics and you see that his consistency is simply frightening. 

It's hard to look beyond the Spaniard securing a fifth consecutive victory at Fleche Wallonne and he will be the man to beat come Liege next Sunday. The only blip on his palmares is the lack of a Amstel Gold victory but if current form is anything to go by, he could correct that this Sunday.

Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal)

If the Ardennes Classics were a Hollywood blockbuster, Tim Wellens would be the plucky underdog that goes through thick and thin before eventually becoming champion. Valverde would almost certainly be the villain. 

The young Belgian has become a true fan favourite thanks to his vocal criticisms of the Therapeutic Use Exemption system and penchant for launching swashbuckling attacks that never stick but invariably light the touch paper of any race. 

It almost became a running joke that Wellens would attack but never win, but 2018 has been a little different. On Wednesday he took an impressive win at Brabantse Pijl and in February he beat some of the world's best climber at the Ruta del Sol.

Could this be his year? 

Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) 

Alaphilippe will probably represent the biggest threat to Valverde's dominance, especially if it comes to a straight-up dogfight on the Mur de Huy at Fleche and Cote de Saint-Nicolas at Liege.

His explosive nature when the gradient tips into double figures is phenomenal. It's almost as if the Frenchman relishes the challenge of knee-crunching climbs. He also packs a fast finish that could be vital at Amstel Gold.

The presence of Philippe Gilbert and Bob Jungels will mean Alaphilippe's team is among the strongest and allow him to sit as a trump card in a strong hand.

Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)

Kwiatokowski has made no secret that the Ardennes Classics represent his biggest goals for 2018. It was clear the Pole was lacking the final pieces of the puzzle to truly compete for the win at the Tour of Flanders but it is likely he will be in fighting form come Amstel this weekend.

Second at last year's race and the winner in 2015, the 2014 World Champion will enter the Dutch one-day race as one of the favourites. The question is, is he good enough for the hillier races of Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege?

Team Sky will be desperately hoping so as it tries to salvage an extremely poor Spring Classics campaign that thus far has delivered zero top 10 finishes for the team in the first three Monuments of the season. 

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) 

The 2018 season hasn't been quite the same vintage as 2017 for GVA but let's be honest, it was never going to be. However, the Belgian has got one chance to rescue his Spring with Amstel Gold.

It will be the only Ardennes Classic GVA rides so there is little reason to hold back. The only barrier could be Van Avemmaet's teammate, Dylan Tuens, who will rightfully ask for the leader's role.

It would come as no surprise if Van Avermaet managed to race to victory this Sunday at Amstel against all odds.

Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans)

It will be Van der Breggen against the world at the trio of women's Ardennes Classics.

2017 was the first year in which the women got to race all three of these one-day races and the Dutchwoman made no mistakes, taking comprehensive victories in all three. She was untouchable. 

With current form considered, the chances of a repeat performance are very likely and it could take something spectacular to stop another clean sweep.

If Van der Breggen does falter, look to Annemiek van Vlueten and Katarzyna Niewiadoma as the likely heirs to the throne.