Welcome to Ardennes week

    With the northern cobbled races wrapped, Cannondale-Drapac now trains its gaze on the hillier races in the Ardennes. A new-look Amstel Gold Race is next up on Sunday, and Flèche Wallonne, with its infamous final climb, on Wednesday.

    Toms Skujins made his 2017 debut in the low lands at De Brabantse Pijl after doing a number of stage races down south.

    “There is a difference between the classics of northern Europe and the south-European stage races. And I’m not talking about the weather. One-day races in northern Europe are definitely more stressful and more exciting. Riders know they have only one shot, so they use every ounce of energy they have to make it count,” Skujins said. “That makes the racing more exciting to watch and more fun to race, too. Positioning is a lot more important, because if you find yourself a bit too far back, your day can be over in a kilometer. I definitely approach it differently.”

    AMSTEL GOLD RACE

    TV viewers are the main reason for changing the Amstel Gold Race finish again, with not the Cauberg but Bemeleberg as the final ascent of the day. After the top, there is still five kilometers to the finish line. DS Tom Southam doesn’t necessarily believe the change in the route will have the impact organizers intend.

    “The race organizers are banking on the removal of the Cauberg making it a more aggressive race,” Southam said. “I think it could still go either way. From the top of the Bemeleberg now you still have several kilometers to ride to the finish, and if a strong team really wants to ride for a sprint, then there is enough road to make that happen.”

    The new course won’t significantly alter the plan for Cannondale-Drapac, Southam said: “We don’t have an out-and-out sprinter who will trouble other teams’ sprinters, but the fact that the route has changed does open up the possibility that things are misjudged and something a little bit interesting happens. It’s been a few years since the race has finished on the flat, so an element of the unknown will play into our hands.”

    Skujins agrees with Southam that it’s the unknown that will be key at Amstel Gold Race: “The riders make the race, so it’s up to us to make it exciting and maybe spring a surprise. There will be a worthy winner this year too, no doubt. ”

    For Skujins, the Amstel Gold Race will be mostly in service of the team. He said: “I’m just hoping to enjoy the day and the fans while making the team proud and doing my role for the team’s best result possible.”

    Cannondale-Drapac for Amstel Gold Race:
    Alberto Bettiol (ITA)
    Brendan Canty (AUS)
    Simon Clarke (AUS)
    Alex Howes (USA)
    Sebastian Langeveld (NED)
    Toms Skujins (LAT)
    Tom-Jelte Slagter (NED)
    Dylan van Baarle (NED)

    FLÈCHE WALLONNE

    Three days later, the riders move back to Belgium for Flèche Wallonne. Rigeberto Uran hasn’t yet raced in the low lands this year, but is expected to lead the team at Flèche. Southam expects Uran won’t need any time adjusting to racing in the Ardennes.

    “Rigo is pretty much the coolest rooster on the planet, I don’t think much phases him,” said Southam. “And he certainly won’t have a problem leading the guys. His condition is good, so he will be in contention.”

    For any specific team ambitions in the Flèche Wallonne, Southam wants to await the Amstel Gold Race.

    “Let’s race first and see what happens on Sunday,” he said.

    Skujins already knows his role in the Flèche Wallonne and who he’ll support on the final climb: “We have Woods and Rigo, who can both fly up the Mur and, honestly, leave everyone to dust, so I’m hoping to get those guys to the bottom of the climb in the best position and let them do their magic.”

    The team needs to continue to build on the hard work that the cobble guys put in already this year,” Southam added. “We’ve been fourth at Flanders and third at Roubaix. We certainly need to continue at the level we have been performing at as a team throughout the races and in the results.”

    Cannondale-Drapac for Flèche Wallonne:
    Brendan Canty (AUS)
    Simon Clarke (AUS)
    Alex Howes (USA)
    Tom Scully (AUS)
    Toms Skujins (LAT)
    Tom-Jelte Slagter (NED)
    Rigoberto Uran (COL)
    Michael Woods (CAN)

    RESOURCES

    Visit the official Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne websites.
    Find Amstel Gold Race results and Flèche Wallonne results.
    Follow Amstel Gold Race’s official Twitter account @Amstelgoldrace, or use #AGR to follow the race on Twitter.
    Follow Flèche Wallonne’s official Twitter account @flechewallonne, or use #FlecheWallonne to follow the race on Twitter.

    The Amstel Gold Race starts at 10:20am CET (2:10am MDT) and is expected to finish at 5pm CET (9am MDT).
    Flèche Wallonne starts at 11:10am CET (3:10am MDT), with an expected finish around 4:30pm CET (8:30am MDT).

    Both races will have a live broadcast on Sporza and Eurosport, with Flèche Wallonne also shown on NBC. Broadcast times to be announced.