THE HAGUE - Belgian Philippe Gilbert will be one of the main men to watch in Sunday's Amstel Gold race, the first of three Ardennes Classics, covering 248.7km and 34 climbs between Maastricht and Valkenburg in the Netherlands.

The 33-year-old has won the arduous slog expected to take 6hours 20 minutes on three previous occasions and with the likes of Alejandro Valverde, Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet missing he fancies his chances in his own backyard. The tough as nails BMC man has been in the top ten seven times, the only blot on his current horizon being a recent fight with two motorists that left him with a broken finger, whilst training for this race.

But Gilbert knows this course so well now he can see the whole thing in his mind. "The tarmac is perfect and those roads are just wonderful, there isn't a single pot-hole along the way," he said. "It's a question of desire. Once the race gets underway it's about staying motivated, staying focussed if you want the win, or do well, it's worth going through the pain."

The 2012 road race world champion, who won the Amstel Gold in 2010, 2011 and 2014, pin-pointed a 500m 9 percent incline with 3km to go as the potentially defining stretch of road. Although last year it was decided on the sprint some 1.8km later. "I'm ready, winning is another thing, but I'll be in the final mix for sure," he promised. "Even after what happened to me (with the two motorists)."

The definitive hill at Cauberg is climbed four times on the race and is situated near the Dutch, German and Belgian border. Gilbert made his move there last year and was reigned in by Michael Matthews, who then fell slightly short himself in the final sprint, coming third. The 25-year-old Australian has promised not to make the same mistake twice and is, along with last year's winner Michal Kwiatkowski also 25, fellow Aussie Simon Gerrans and France's Tony Gallopin, amongst those tipped to win the 2016 edition.

It would be a first classic win for Matthews, who went out and won the Tour de la Rioja in preparation for this unique Dutch classic race. Another man worth keeping an eye on would be the technically gifted Czech Petr Vakoc. The 23-year-old Etixx rider won the De Brabantse Pijl title in Belgium on Wednesday. The Ardennes Classics continue with La Fleche Wallonne a week from now and culminate with Liege-Bastogne-Liege on April 24.