Pogacar enters Amstel thirsty for more victories

15 Apr 2023 09:10pm
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VALKENBERG - Tadej Pogacar resumes his relentless pursuit of victories on Sunday in the Amstel Gold one-day cycling classic in the Netherlands.

Two weeks after claiming the Tour of Flanders, the Slovenian returns to competition as the great favourite.

As well as the Tour of Flanders, one of cycling's five one-day 'Monuments', Pogacar has finished first overall in two multi-day races, Paris-Nice and the Tour of Andalucia, winning three individual stages in both. He also won his season-opener in Jaen in Spain.

"My spring is already a great success, but the hunger is still there," he said.

His late decision to enter instantly changed the prospects for his main rivals.

They include Belgian Tiesj Benoot, Briton Tom Pidcock, Frenchman Benoit Cosnefroy and last year's winner, Pole Michal Kwiatkowski.

Pogacar will be the man to beat.

Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel, winner this year of Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix, and Belgian Wout Van Aert, who ended his spring campaign last Sunday with a heartbreaking third place in the 'Hell of the North', are both absent.

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The only Dutch classic on the calendar has a profile that fits Pogacar's style.

It is winding, with 33, often short and sharp, climbs. It covers 253 kilometres as it zig-zags from Maastricht to Valkenburg.

"I've only ridden it once and I remember it being a long and difficult race with lots of climbs," said the UAE team leader.

Four years ago, at 19, he did not finish.

"I had to stop for a nature break," Pogacar told Dutch broadcaster NOS this week.

"I finally came to the bus just really empty and there was still 10k to the finish."

Van der Poel won that year after catching the powerful two-man breakaway of Julian Alaphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang in the final kilometre.

"I watched the last kilometres, and I must say it was worth not finishing the race so I could see this finish, it was amazing. I think it was my best experience as a viewer."

Pogacar rode the last 75 kilometres of the course on Friday morning.

"I feel that the fitness of the last few weeks has not gone away," he said. "It will not be easy."

Pogacar could ride the Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday before he goes for the final 'Monument' of the spring season on April 23.

"I want to keep the focus up to and including Liege-Bastogne-Liege," he said.

Pidcock, who rides for Ineos, won the Strade Bianche classic in early March but was later sidelined by concussion following a crash in Tirreno-Adriatico.

In the absence of Van Aert, Belgian Benoot, who was third in the Amstel last year and won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in February, will be the main hope for the powerful Jumbo-Visma team.

He said he "loves the Amstel, which is a bit like the Tour of Flanders without the cobblestones".

Last year, Cosnefroy was declared the winner before photos showed Kwiatkowski had edged him at the line.

"Do better" is his declared goal. He said that Pogacar is not unbeatable and the absence of Van Aert and Van der Poel helps.

"When the three fantastics are together, you know that it will be one of the three who will win. When there is only one, it is possible to beat him," the Frenchman said.

The reason, he said, is that the final climb, the Cauberg, is almost 20 kilometres from the line.

"The last challenge is located far from the finish. Everyone will want to take Pogi's wheel and it won't be easy for one man alone to make the difference." - AFP

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