Controversial Spaniard Alejandro Valverde will continue to provoke cycling's world ruling body when he lines up with possible victory in mind at the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday.
Valverde is currently a target of International Cycling Union (UCI) bosses who are clinging to the hope of banning the Spaniard for his alleged implication in the 'Operation Puerto' doping scandal which erupted in Spain in 2006.
But while the Spaniard awaits a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling which could extend an Italy-wide doping ban worldwide, it's business as usual.
Although Valverde usually does not come into top form for Amstel, the first race in the three 'Ardennes Classics', past victories in the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege classics mean he can't be discounted.
"The three races suit me really well," said Valverde, who finished runner-up to American Chris Horner at the Tour of the Basque Country last week. "I've won the Fleche (Wallonne) and had two victories at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. This year, I'd like to win one of the three."
He added: "On paper the Amstel Gold Race really suits my capabilities but because it's the first of the three I've always arrived a little bit under par. That has left me a bit short on power for the finale, while I felt better in Liege."
Like many of the hilly one-day races in Europe's spring calendar, Amstel is designed to reward the cyclist who can last the pace, resist late attacks - and finish with a flurry.
The finish line sits atop the Cauberg, one of 31 climbs on the 257.8km race, although in this edition the peloton will have to race the feared Eyserbosweg twice instead of once because of roadworks.
Usually tackled after 237km of racing, the Eyserbosweg will also be raced a first time after 160km.
"The real action starts on the Eyserbosweg climb when we go over it the second time, less than 30 kilometres from the finish," said Team Columbia sports director Tristan Hoffman. "After that, you can't afford to make any mistakes."
On paper, one of the peloton's 'punchers' - riders who excel on the climbs, including at the finish line - should raise his arms in triumph atop the Cauberg.
And for the thousands of party-loving Dutch who line the route, hopes will fall on Robert Gesink to break the victory drought that has followed Erik Dekker's victory in 2001. Last year Gesink had to settle for third behind Dutch compatriot Karsten Kroon as Sergei Ivanov of Team Katusha claimed victory, and made history for Russia.
A repeat for Ivanov looks unlikely, given the shape of some contenders including Luxembourg's Frank Schleck, who won the 2006 edition in what was his breakthrough year in the sport.
Schleck's third place at the Klassika Primavera on Sunday, a Spanish one-dayer won by Olympic road race champion Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel, suggested he has put a recent crash well behind him.
"Frank was looking extremely powerful... and you would never guess that he recently had a terrible crash," said Saxo Bank sports director Bradley McGee.
"In general, the team is very strong and they are riding like a solid unit. It sure looks promising prior to the Ardennes Classics."
© AFP 2010
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