Rider updates: Philippe Gilbert, Rui Costa and Nairo Quintana

Two of my trio of climbers have got their seasons off to perfect starts, with Movistar duo Rui Costa and Nairo Quintana both picking up wins already. My third rider, puncheur and world champion Philippe Gilbert is yet to win in the rainbow jersey, though with some luck that may be about to change!

Philippe Gilbert (BMC)

Image courtesy of BMC

Image: BMC


  • 34th overall at the Tour Down Under.
  • 21st overall at the Tour of Oman.
  • 35th overall and one 2nd place at Paris-Nice.
  • 32nd at Milan-San Remo.
  • 48th at E3 Harelbeke.
  • 42nd at Gent-Wevelgem.
  • 2nd at Brabantse Pijl.

WorldTour ranking: 71st, 6 pts.

At the time of writing, Philippe Gilbert’s season hasn’t been exactly overwhelming. With the exception of one criterium ‘victory’, the Belgian classics champ still hasn’t tasted success in the rainbow jersey. He has ridden fairly unspectacularly at the majority of his races so far, save for a couple of second-place finishes at Paris-Nice (where he was outsprinted by Sylvain Chavanel) and finishing just behind Peter Sagan at Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday. He pulled out of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco last week, ominously saying:

The classics are next week. I didn’t feel very good, so I just say to stop and try to recover and train for next week.

The Basque stage race worryingly even drove him to dreaming of a different kind of drug cycling is used to:

While he has underwhelmed so far, there is still hope we could see fireworks when the Ardennes classics get underway. He may not have won at Brabantse Pijl, but it still offers some reason for optimism. A great indicator of form ahead of the triple-header of Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Gilbert was the only man who could live with the superhuman Peter Sagan, with the Slovak narrowly beating the Belgian in the sprint.

That would suggest that Gilbert is coming into form and at just the right time. On the tough finishes to come, there’s hope we could see the vintage PhilGil again, looking to repeat his remarkable 2011 Ardennes triple success – and writing off his disappointing 2012 campaign in the process. Fortunately, he says:

I am a little better than I was this time last year!

Rui Costa (Movistar)

Image: Movistar


  • 4th at Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana.
  • 5th overall and one 2nd place at Volta ao Algarve.
  • 1st at Klasika Primavera.

WorldTour ranking: N/A

On his potential, Movistar’s Portuguese starlet Rui Costa says:

I don’t know how far I can go.

‘Far’ would probably be a rather less-modest answer. Though modesty is to be expected from the rider who went to the effort of thanking the sizeable number of people who sent him Twitter messages after his recent victory at the Klasika Primavera – a hilly Spanish race which literally translates as ‘Spring Classic’.

The win was impressive for three reasons – the first was that it was a demonstration of his incredible all-round ability – he sprinted out of a bunch of 20 to take victory. Secondly, he managed to pip a certain Alberto Contador to the post, and thirdly it came soon after he crashed out of Paris-Nice with a wrist injury which he seemed only too happy to show off:

Elsewhere, the Portuguese finished in the top five at the Volta ao Algarve in an impressive start to the season. Already attention is turning to some of the bigger races coming up – including the biggest of them all, the Tour de France. Rui Costa says he’ll be riding in support of Alejandro Valverde and is excellently placed to improve on his top 20 from last season. At 26 he’s still relatively youthful, and his talent is obvious.

Nairo Quintana (Movistar)

Nairo Quintana Movistar 2013

Image: Movistar


  • 1st overall, won one stage and the points classification at Vuelta al Pais Vasco.
  • 4th overall and won one stage at Volta a Catalunya.
  • 7th overall at Vuelta a Andalucía.

WorldTour ranking: 4th, 182 pts.

If Movistar are excited about Rui Costa, they’ll barely be able to contain themselves at the progress of Colombian Nairo Quintana. Three years Rui Costa’s junior, the climber has started this season astonishingly well. This tweet from writer Matt Rendell tells the whole story:

He has picked up top tens at the Volta a Catalunya and the Vuelta a Andalucía, with his most impressive result unquestionably coming in the overall win at the Vuelta a Pais Vasco. He won the queen stage of the six-day race in a powerful illustration of his irrefutable climbing prowess. Just as impressive though was how he held off a GC charge from Richie Porte in a 24km time trial, finishing second on the stage.

Belied by his diminutive frame, Quintana evidently packs a punch against the clock. Only Luis Herrera has hailed from South America and won a Grand Tour, though this 23-year-old climber from the east Andes looks like he could one day rewrite history and repeat his compatriot’s feat. He’ll also be riding the Tour de France and you can’t help but wonder if he’ll actually be hampered by having to ride in support of Valverde. Only time will tell.

Websites: Philippe Gilbert, Rui Costa

Twitter: @Phil_Gilbert1@RuiCostaCyclist

The Musette: Slow cooked lamb and baked beans

At the weekends, particularly during the colder months, one of my challenges is to find, amend or develop recipes that cook while we’re out riding and are ready to serve by the time my husband has finished his post-ride ablutions. My solution to this conundrum is what I like to refer to as ‘slow one-pot cooking’. Slow cooking turns less expensive cuts into a feast, tenderising the meat and giving the flavours time to develop and meld together. I cook this in the oven but equally it can be cooked in a crock-pot or on a gentle heat on the stove. Continue reading

Amstel Gold preview

Amstel Gold Race logoThe week of Ardennes classics are kicked off on Sunday with the Amstel Gold Race. The peloton will be pleased to have left the pavé behind as they head to Limburg in the Netherlands for the youngest of the three races that make up the Ardennes triple-header. Revamped with an even more difficult finishing circuit for this edition, this race is even more unpredictable than ever.

What kind of race is it?

Amstel Gold derives its name through the sponsorship provided by the Dutch beer giant rather than the river, and it is the youngest of the three Ardennes classics. First run in 1966, it is regarded as the least prestigious of the three races, though is nevertheless an excellent victory for a rider’s palmarès. From Eddy Merckx to Bernard Hinault and more recently Philippe Gilbert, some of cycling’s greats have won here.

Starting in Maastricht, the race takes in 34 sharp climbs in its 251.8km course, finishing 2km past the climb of the Cauberg in Valkenburg, where the road world championships finished last season.

Image: amstelgoldrace.nl

Gasparotto wins last year (image: amstelgoldrace.nl)

Winners in the last five years:

2008: Damiano Cunego (Lampre)

2009: Serguei Ivanov (Katusha)

2010: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)

2011: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)

2012: Enrico Gasparotto (Astana)

What happened last year?

Astana’s Enrico Gasparotto upset the odds to take the biggest solo win of his career, when he sprinted to victory ahead of Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), after an excellent attack by veteran Oscar Freire (Katusha) was shut down inside the final 100 metres. It was the start of Philippe Gilbert’s (BMC) campaign to repeat his 2011 feat and complete the Ardennes triple, though after his attack failed further down the Cauberg he had to settle for a sixth place finish.

1. Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) 6:32:35

2. Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) same time

3. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:02

4. Oscar Freire (Katusha) s/t

5. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) s/t

6. Philippe Gilbert (BMC) s/t

7. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t

8. Fabian Wegmann (Garmin-Barracuda) +0:04

9. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t

10. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) s/t

Click here for our full review of last year’s race.

This year’s race

There have been some notable tweaks to the final circuit for this year’s edition. As mentioned earlier, the finish line is now placed just under a couple of kilometres after the summit of the Cauberg, a 1.2km climb with a maximum gradient of 12%. In a fairly major adjustment, that climb will be taken in a punishing four times in a bid to increase attacking opportunities for the riders.

The change was inspired by the finish line positioning of last year’s world championships when Philippe Gilbert took victory. The adjustment will definitely make the racing more unpredictable, as no longer will it be a given that the winner will make the crucial attack on the Cauberg. Race director Leo Van Vliet had this to say:

We wanted to change the rhythm of the race and allow riders more chances to attack. We saw how the race was last year in the worlds. The new finish line changes everything.

Amstel Gold Race parcours 2013

Who to watch

Peter Sagan (image: Cannondale)

Peter Sagan (image: Cannondale)

There are two stand-out favourites for this race: Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, who continued his excellent spring campaign with a win at the Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday, and the man he narrowly out-sprinted to win that race, Philippe Gilbert. BMC’s Belgian world champion is yet to win in the rainbow jersey, though he seems to be coming into form at just the right time.

Elsewhere, Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez will be licking his lips at the short, sharp climb this race offers, having ridden himself into shape with a few stage races already this season. The Spaniard finished second here in 2011, and won the second of the three Ardennes races Flèche Wallonne last season.

Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) recently took a stage win at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, and is another rider who enjoys these punchy climbs. He’s a decent outside shot, alongside Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Niki Terpstra and Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Last year’s winner Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) will be racing again, though may be hampered by injuries sustained in a collision with a truck when out training on Thursday. Despite travelling at around 50kph, he miraculously managed to escape without any serious damage. His teammate Maxim Iglinskiy is probably a better bet for a good finish.

The Amstel Gold Race takes place on Sunday 14th April. Live coverage will be shown on Eurosport. For other options check cyclingfans.com.

Link: Official website