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Racing on home turf in Holland's Limburg province makes the Amstel Gold Race is unquestionably the most important race of the spring for the Rabobank team. Just as US Postal/Discovery Channel was expected to take charge of the Tour de France in the Lance Armstrong era, so Rabobank are expected to rule the roost in Sunday's hilly spring classic, writes Susanne Horsdal.
It's been like that for years, but this time the orange-clad team seems to have even more contenders for the victory than in previous editions. Oscar Freire has already taken victory in the Brabrantse Pijl and a stage in the Tour of the Basque Country, and Michael Boogerd is also reported to be in top shape. On top of these two captains, the veteran Erik Dekker and youngster Thomas Dekker look like other possible winners. Theirs is truly a formidable line-up.
But others are ready to challenge the Rabos. According to Quick Step's Paolo Bettini, he's never felt fresher before an Amstel Gold Race, Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde has made this race one of his objectives of the year and has prepared accordingly, while Euskaltel's Samuel Sanchez has banked a lot of confidence thanks to his two stage victories in the Tour of the Basque Country and CSC's Karsten Kroon is more motivated than ever following his move from Rabobank to Team CSC.
"Last year there were three leaders in the Rabobank team: Boogerd, Freire and Erik Dekker. I didn't feel they were a lot better than me, so I asked if I would have the opportunity to ride for my own chance. The answer was no. That's why I decided to go to another team," says Kroon, who is now Team CSC's captain for Amstel.
"Of course there's extra pressure on me now that I'm the team captain, but it's a situation I've been longing for and my preparations have been perfect. I'm 100 per cent ready," says a confident Kroon.
In this nervous race with its 31 short but steep hills on the 253 kilometres that takes place on twisty, narrow roads, others worth keeping an eye on include Igor Astarloa, Frank Schleck, Filippo Pozzato and Andrei Kashechkin, but the pressure is on Rabobank.
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