UAE Team Emirates heads to the second Ardennes Classics of the season this Wednesday with hopes of bouncing back from a disappointing opening Amstel Gold Race that kicked off the series.
The team spoke of a desire to reach the podium of that race but lead rider Rui Costa could only finish 38th, bettered by team-mates Diego Ulissi (27), Manuele Mori (29) and Simone Petilli (33).
Costa is now targeting a top ten finish at La Fleche Wallone, the first of two races in Belgium that complete the Ardennes Classics trilogy.
“La Fleche Wallonne, is a peculiar race, and usually happens in the middle of the week and is the final rehearsal for the Liege–Bastogne–Liege,” said Costa. “The course is unique and some of the riders in our team like Diego Ulissi, have the necessary qualities for performing well on the very steep Mur de Huy.
“I cannot say it is one of my favourite Ardennes Classic. Generally, steep climbs are difficult for me, however on a day when my legs feel good I can achieve a good result, like last year where I finished in the top ten.”
The 200.5km race has nine climbs and concludes on top of the Mur de Huy (Wall of Huy), a steep 1.3km climb averaging a gradient of 9.3 % but maxing out at 26 %.
Ulissi, one of only two riders to ever win the Junior World Championships in consecutive years (2006 and 2007), has fonder memories than Costa when it comes to the Ardennes Classic.
“I like La Fleche Wallonne, as it was the first Ardennes Classic I ever took part in,” he said. “The best results I’ve had at this race have been placing in the top ten twice. I was ninth in 2012 and eighth in 2016.
“I like the frantic moments before the approach of the Mur de Huy; you need to be supported by a good team that push you and help you move to the front of the peloton.
“Each decision is critical and decisive on the climb of the Mur de Huy, if you attack too early or too late, you are out of the top ten. I’m looking forward to the race as I feel that I can achieve better results this year.”
UAE Team Emirates’ rider Anass Ait el Abdia sealed the General Classification title at the tenth and final stage of the Tour Du Maroc on Monday.
The Moroccan national champion took the win thanks, primarily, to his victory in the fourth stage – Houed Laou-El Hoceima.
The victory is the fourth of his career, following on from the 2016 National Championships, Tour du Prince 2015, and the Taghir stage of the Tour du Maroc 2014.
“I’m happy and proud, this victory comes at an important moment in my career,” said the 24-year-old who heads to the Gp Citta di Lugano and the Tour of Slovenia next. “I participated in the Tour Du Maroc as part of the Moroccan National Team and I am happy to have been able to finish with such a great result.
“Crossing the line at the Tour du Maroc as the overall leader is a feeling I cannot describe, but it is a very good feeling. I’m now looking forward to my upcoming races.”
The victory also delighted UAE Team Emirates’ Team Manager, Carlo Saronni.
“We are very proud of Anass and would like to congratulate him and the Moroccan National Team on this home win,” said Saronni.
“They were impressive throughout the race and it’s great that they were able to have success at the Tour du Maroc.”
UAE Team Emirates, led by in-form Portuguese rider Rui Costa, is heading to the first of the season’s three Ardennes Classics – the Amstel Gold Race – this Sunday, with hopes of a podium place firmly in mind.
Costa, who earlier this season won the overall General Classification title at his team’s home race – the Abu Dhabi Tour – is aiming to improve on his previous best at the Amstel Gold Race.
That was a fourth place finish in 2015 and this year, Costa is hoping to break into the top-three.
“My participation on Sunday will mark the eighth time for me back at the Amstel Gold Race,” he said. “This is a race I like and look forward to. I know that it’s going to be super tough and even though I’ve got good form, I know that I’ll have to have a really good day.
“You need to manage the way you expend your energy and effort in order to prepare yourself to arrive at the hills in the best position and form.
“I was fourth in 2015, so I know I can contend in this race and I could aim for a breakaway win.
“The last passage on the Cauberg used to be the most important part of the race, however this year the course has been changed and the last climb will be Bemelerberg cresting at 7.3 kilometres making it a bit more suited for fast riders like Ben swift and Diego Ulissi who now have more of a chance than in the past.”
Taking place in the south of the Netherlands, in the region of Maastricht, the Amstel Gold Race is a unique race which sees the riders faced with a multitude of mostly short, but often brutally steep, climbs.
The 52nd edition of the race will be the 16th stop on the UCI World Tour this year, and will feature 259.7 kilometers of narrow roads, dozens of hills and relentless twists and turns.
The 2017 route takes in 35 hills, yet unlike in previous editions, the hard-hitting Cauberg is no longer the final climb, making the Dutch race even more uncertain than usual.
Joining former World Champion Costa in the hunt for glory on Sunday will be his UAE Team Emirates team-mate, British sprint sensation Ben Swift who believes that the unusual course this year could play to his advantage.
“The new final part of the course presents an opportunity for me and for other riders with similar strengths, and so Amstel Gold Race could be a new and interesting challenge for me,” said Swift. “It is always very difficult to predict how this race will pan out and a challenge to be amongst the front group in the final portion of the race.”
Riding alongside Rui Costa and Ben Swift at the Amstel Gold Race, the UAE Team Emirates line-up is completed by Diego Ulissi, Matteo Bono, Marco Marcato, Matej Mohoric, Manuele Mori and Simone Petilli.