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Cycling: Mathieu Van der Poel tackles the Ardennes and the Amstel Gold Race

Mathieu van der Poel, who crushed the Flandrian spring, takes on the Ardennes classics on Sunday, aiming for a prestigious double Amstel Gold Race/Liège-Bastogne-Liège with the label of man to beat.

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Cycling: Mathieu Van der Poel tackles the Ardennes and the Amstel Gold Race

Mathieu van der Poel, who crushed the Flandrian spring, takes on the Ardennes classics on Sunday, aiming for a prestigious double Amstel Gold Race/Liège-Bastogne-Liège with the label of man to beat.

This will especially be the case this weekend in Dutch Limburg between Maastricht and Valkenburg (south), where the leader of the Alpecin-Deceuninck team will try to line up at home, in the only World Tour race in the Netherlands, a fourth success in a row after its demonstrations at the GP E3, at the Tour of Flanders then at Paris-Roubaix last Sunday.

His task will be largely made easier by the absences of Tadej Pogacar, Remco Evenepoelet and Wout Van Aert. The Slovenian, winner of the Amstel last year, lightened his start to the season to better prepare for the Giro while the two Belgian champions are recovering from their heavy falls in recent weeks, like Primoz Roglic, also package for the Ardennes.

“MVDP” will therefore have a famous sign on the back, also worn by his supporters who have too little opportunity to see him race in the Netherlands.

The sense of recovery and anticipation of the "little phenomenon" - as his grandfather Raymond Poulidor nicknamed him - is a considerable asset for taming the 33 hills spread over the 253 km of an event that Van der Poel describes as “mini-Tour of Flanders, minus the cobblestones”.

To thwart him, the collective strength of the UAE team will not be too much. Even without Pogacar, she will look great with the quartet of Brandon McNulty, Joao Almeida, Marc Hirschi and Juan Ayuso. The Ineos Grenadiers will field a double winner of the Amstel, the Pole Michal Kwiatkowski, and a potential winner, the Briton Tom Pidcock.

After his victory on Wednesday over the Flèche Brabançonne, the Frenchman Benoît Cosnefroy joined the group of outsiders. Second in 2022, painfully beaten in the photo finish by Kwiatkowski, the rider from the Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale team wants to believe “that it is possible to beat Van der Poel”.

The Australian Michael Matthews, the Dane Mattias Skjelmose, the Belgian Dylan Teuns and the revelation of the 2023 Ardennes campaign, the Irishman Ben Healy, 2nd a year ago in Valkenburg, perhaps have the same conviction.

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