EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale trades cobbles for climbs at Ardennes Classics

    With the cobbles of Belgium and France in arrears, the EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale has dispatched a team of climbers to the Ardennes races. The trifecta of Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège make up block of racing that’s an entirely different challenge, or, as Alex Howes puts it: “They’re beautiful races. They’re left right up down all day. You’re totally switched on for 6.5 hours for Amstel and Liège.”

    The Amstel Gold Race opens up the week and serves as something of an in-between: Some riders from the cobbled races line up for Amstel while others wrapped up at Roubaix. Sep Vanmarcke will take the start along with Matti Breschel, Lawson Craddock, Alex Howes, Logan Owen, Rigoberto Uran and Mike Woods.

    “Amstel is really hard. Those climbs and tiny roads are hard. They come at you all day. With these races, it’s not as obvious as the cobbled classics. These are like a slow burn. I feel a bit sad they’re under-appreciated,” said sport director Tom Southam, who will oversee the Ardennes racing. “The level is really high. Small moments are really decisive in these races. It’s not glaringly obvious, it’s not breaking up all over the place — that kind of attracts me. You can’t expend effort at the wrong time. You want to wait for the last possible moment. These races can change really quickly. It’s easy to think they’re formulaic, but they aren’t. They’re grueling and hard. Any small mistake you make you’re going to have to pay for.”

    The team will be ready for one kind of Amstel with Vanmarcke and another entirely with Uran.

    La Flèche Wallonne will come down to positioning into its fabled climb, the Mur de Huy (average gradient, 9.6 percent; maximum gradient, 26 percent).

    “We know what’s going to happen there, don’t we?” Southam noted.

    “I imagine I’ll be playing the part of aggressor later in the race. Maybe the attack before the attacks kind of thing,” Howes said. “Definitely for Fleche I’ll be the guy to lead into the base of the Mur. Which, as anyone who follows Fleche knows, your result is 80 percent position into the bottom of the Mur. The other 20 percent is VO2 max.”

    Woods has finished 12th and 11th at Flèche and combined with Uran provides the team with options. The pair will be joined for the mid-week race by Craddock, Howes, Kim Magnusson, Dani Martinez and Pierre Rolland. Martinez makes his return to racing after suffering a concussion in late March.

    Amstel Gold Race

    Sport Directors:
    Tom Southam (GBR)
    Charly Wegelius (GBR)

    Riders:

    Matti Breschel (DEN)
    Lawson Craddock (USA)
    Alex Howes (USA)
    Logan Owen (USA)
    Rigoberto Uran (COL)
    Sep Vanmarcke (BEL)
    Mike Woods (CAN)

    La Flèche Wallonne

    Sport Directors:

    Juanma Garate (ESP)
    Tom Southam (GBR)

    Riders:
    Lawson Craddock (USA)
    Alex Howes (USA)
    Kim Magnusson (SWE)
    Daniel Martinez (COL)
    Pierre Rolland (FRA)
    Rigoberto Uran (COL)
    Mike Woods (CAN)