Rebellin favourite for Amstel defence

Defending champion Davide Rebellin heads the list of favourites for Sunday's Amstel Gold Race, but t

Defending champion Davide Rebellin heads the list of favourites for Sunday's Amstel Gold Race, but t

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As the cobblestone Classic specialists take a rest, it's time for a new group of riders to take the stage during this spring Classics season. In Sunday's hilly and twisty Amstel Gold Race, the lighter and more mountain-oriented brigade are taking charge, and names such as Rebellin, Di Luca and Boogerd take over from the Boonens and Bckstedts, writes Susanne Horsdal.

Last year's conquering hero, Davide Rebellin, is once again one of the strong favourites for the 40th edition of the Dutch Classic, and says he is ready to aim and fire." My condition is just as good as 12 months ago. In the Tour of the Basque Country it was only a few seconds that separated me from Di Luca and the victory. But you can't make me say that I'll win three times again [this coming week]. I'm Catholic and I know that miracles are the exception to the rule. I'll be very pleased if I can win just once in the next 10 days," says the Gerolsteiner rider, who believes that there are not too many favourites for Amstel.

He has just a few names: "Di Luca has never won a big one-day race but is stronger than ever before. Michael Boogerd I found was rather good in the Tour of the Basque Country. Oscar Freire can win any classic, and he is never more dangerous than when he's had a period of inactivity."

Boogerd is historically one of the favourites. Not only is he riding on home turf in the race ridden in the Dutch Limburg province, he also has an impressive track record the event.

Since 1998 he has never finished outside the top nine, he has made it to the podium four times and in 1999 he won the race. This year he's expressed reservations about his form, though, and since finishing eighth in the Basque Country he has trained very hard on the route.

"I've been riding four to six hours a day trying to fine-tune my body. Now I can only wait and see if I'll have that super feeling," says the Rabobank rider, who sees Illes Balears' Alejandro Valverde as one of the most dangerous contenders. "If Valverde can follow to the foot of the Cauberg you won't need to watch in the last metres, you will already know the winner. Nobody, including Rebellin and Di Luca can defeat Valverde in an uphill sprint, nobody except maybe for Oscar Freire," says Boogerd.

Valverde booked his first victory outside of Spain when he won a stage in Paris-Nice, then went on to make his debut in Milan-San Remo, take two stage wins in the Tour of the Basque Country, and is now making his debut at Amstel - and later in the week in the Ardennes Classics. With his climbing skills and explosive finish he's made for a finish like the Cauberg. The question is if he's prepared for all the twists and turns and the nervousness of this race.

Since winning the Tour of the Basque Country last week Danilo Di Luca, fourth in last year's Amstel Gold Race, has taken it easy. "It would have been wrong to force anything after that and I have deliberately only gone for some relatively short training rides and one hard one, 230 kilometres behind a scooter," says the Liquigas rider, who feels very confident but will keep an eye on Rebellin and Boogerd.

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