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The Spanish armada of Team Movistar drives into the Ardennes intent on taking home at least one of the trophies.
Movistar brings one of the deepest and most ambitious squads to the treble of hilly classics. Captained by two-time Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Alejandro Valverde, Movistar comes loaded with legs ready to attack the peloton.
The Spanish squad also brings recent Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) champion Nairo Quintana and Portuguese attacker Rui Costa. Add improving Costa Rican classics rider Andrey Amador and Italian sprinter Giovanni Visconti, and Movistar arrives in the Ardennes with options for all scenarios.
Valverde returns to the Ardennes intent on winning at least one of the upcoming string of races.
Already a winner at Liège and Fleche Wallonne, Valverde admits he’d like to win Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race to complete the treble.
“I hope to race all three. If things go well, without crashes, I am confident I can be there,” Valverde told Biciciclismo.com. “I take on all three with a lot of motivation. … I would like to win Amstel or Liège, one of the two. I’d be satisfied with that. If it’s a podium, OK, but I’d prefer to win, of course.”
Valverde, 32, returns to the Ardennes after a sub-par run last year. The double-Liège winner (2006, 2008) returned to competition last year following his controversial two-year ban for his links to the Puerto doping scandal, and while he rode well throughout the season, he was flat in the Ardennes.
Last year, Valverde was unimpressive in the Ardennes, finishing 22nd at Amstel Gold and 46th in Flèche Wallonne (a race he won in 2006), and he was disqualified from Liège after accidentally following a motorcycle off-course in what was a detour for photographers.
Valverde’s best result at Amstel Gold was third in 2007, so he has some unsettled business with the Dutch classic.
“I’d like to win Amstel because it’s the one that eluded me so far,” he said. “I arrive to the classics fresh, complete and with motivation. We will have a competitive team.”
Quintana, meanwhile, will race the Ardennes for the first time, so the 23-year-old Colombian will likely have a free ride to follow his sensations without carrying the responsibility of the team.
Riders like Amador, who rode well through the northern classics, and Costa will both be second options behind Valverde.
Movistar has had one of its best starts to the season in team history, with eight wins. Costa won the Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta last weekend ahead of Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), while Quintana won a stage and the overall at the Basque Country tour to confirm his arrival at the elite level.
Valverde started his season with a win at the Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana on Mallorca, followed by two stage wins and the overall at the Ruta del Sol.
Valverde was on track to challenge for the Volta a Catalunya in March before crashing out on gravel on a corner in the decisive climbing stage. That opened the door for Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) to win the overall.
For Valverde, the classics mark an early-season goal, but he admits he will not be at 100 percent because he’s betting everything on what’s coming down the road.
“I want to ride [the classics] better than I did last year. I wasn’t feeling well and I was tired both in the head and body,” Valverde said of last year’s Ardennes campaign. “It’s true that I don’t come with many days of racing in my legs, but that’s not so important. Also remember that my big objective this year is the Tour and later I’ll have the Vuelta a España and the worlds.”
Movistar’s Amstel Gold Race roster
Andrey Amador (CRC)
Nairo Quintana (COL)
Imanol Erviti (ESP)
Rui Costa (POR)
Angel Madrazo (ESP)
Pablo Lastras (ESP)
Alejandro Valverde (ESP)
Giovanni Visconti (ITA)