Amstel Gold Race Preview

The good news is this Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race is happening, an improvement on last year when the race was cancelled, where even an autumn slot was off the cards. The bad news is that the compromise to enable the race is that the course is a circuit race that avoids many of the sharp climbs and small roads that make the race so hard.

The Course: 218km with 12 local laps and then a finishing lap that’s slightly different. The 12 laps are each 16.9km long and feature the Geulhemerberg (1.1km at 5.4%), Bemelerberg (0.9% at 5%) and Cauberg (1.2km at 5.8%) climbs. These are all wide tarmac roads, but the low average and meagre altitude gain don’t tell the full story, where the Cauberg in particular has a steep point that robs momentum. Overall, sitting tight on the wheels, even on the climbs, helps save a lot of energy. Promoters are spinning the race as having more climbs than ever, as 12 laps with 3 climbs = 36 climbs, more than the usual route’s 34 ascents, which is numerically correct, but note this year’s edition has about 2,500m of vertical gain compared to the usual 3,500m, so this makes the race easier and more accessible – an Amstel Light.

The Finish: the final lap is shorter at 15.9km and skips the Cauberg, instead cutting through the apple orchards and the same route used in 2018 and 2019 before, and where one of the roads has been renamed the Mathieu van der Poel allee. The finishing straight is flat.

The Contenders: this is Jumbo-Visma’s home race, but we have to go back to 2001 to find the last winner from the team, during its Rabobank epoque, in Erik Dekker. Wout van Aert’s been missing support in the cobbled classics, but here he’s got much more support with Primož Roglič, Jonas Vingegaard and the backbone of the squad’s Tour roster and on a circuit race there are fewer surprises, so the race will be easier to control. The concerns are form and pressure, and though he wasn’t ice cold in the Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday (where he worked a lot to keep the trio away when he could have sat back, then launched a long sprint once he saw Benoît Cosnefroy closing in), now the pressure’s even greater. Jumbo-Visma can almost play the bunch sprint card, but will be happier if van Aert and a teammate can infiltrate a breakaway and wait for the sprint.

Mathieu van der Poel isn’t riding in case you were wondering. If Jumbo-Visma go for the reduced bunch sprint scenario then several others can hope for an opening. Think Michael Matthews (Bike Exchange), Matteo Trentin (UAE Emirates), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain), Magnus Cort (EF-Nippo), Alex Aranburu (Astana) or Daryl Impey (Israel) but would you bet on them beating van Aert?

Julian Alaphilippe is on hillier terrain to suit his build, but his form isn’t as convincing and even if he were in peak condition, this course is hard for him. However, it’s not as hard as the usual route that saw him in the breakaway with Jacob Fuglsang in 2019. He’s part of a young and injury-hit Deceuninck-Quickstep team with Mauri Vansevenant for longer range moves.

Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) should like the Cauberg, he won the U23 worlds here in 2012. Jacob Fuglsang won’t appreciate the flatter course and the form is unknown, he had a quiet but steady Tour of the Basque Country and in past years when he’s shone in the Ardennes he’s done better in Baskenland too.

Embed from Getty Images

Ineos’s 21 year old neo-pro Tom Pidcock is their leader, he’s just won the Brabantse Pijl and comes with past winner Michał Kwiatkowski and Eddie Dunbar as contenders, and Tao Geoghegan Hart and Richard Carapaz as a curiosity.

Bora-Hansgrohe’s Max Schachmann had a quiet Tour of the Basque Country but was still with the best while Ide Schelling is having an excellent season so far but a win is a big ask. Groupama-FDJ’s David Gaudu is in great shape but needs a hillier course so there’s an opening for Valentin Madouas who seems to get better the longer the race but has only one win to his name.

Bahrain’s Dylan Teuns should feature in the upcoming Ardennes races and while he seems to specialise on the sharp climbs, doesn’t need them to feature. Over at rival Gulf team, Marc Hirschi (UAE Emirates) isn’t in the form he showed in the Ardennes last autumn but is improving. Longer range outsiders are Tim Wellens and Andreas Kron (Lotto-Soudal), Rob Stannard (Bike Exchange), Rob Power and Simon Clarke (Qhubeka-Assos).

Wout van Aert
Tom Pidcock, Dylan Teuns, Michael Matthews, Julian Alaphilippe
Schachmann, Wellens, Lutsenko, Cort, Vingegaard
Trentin, Kwiatkowski, Hirschi, Schelling, Aranburu, Impey, Stannard, Power, Clarke

Weather: cool, cloudy and an outside chance of rain. A slight northerly breeze.

Amstel: a brand of beer, and normally this helps make the race a very popular event, but a condition of having the race this year is that no spectators are allowed beside the race. No VIP zones either.

TV: the men’s race starts at midday and the finish is forecast for 5.30pm CEST. The local broadcaster is NOS and Eurosport/GCN is the international broadcaster. As it’s a circuit race, don’t tune in too early, where the format is typically that the racing gets more frenetic the closer to the finish as there are no strategic points, just attrition.

The women’s race is on from 8.30am to 11.50 CEST and the final hour is on TV. For a thoughtful preview head to

89 thoughts on “Amstel Gold Race Preview”

  1. News from the domestic scene in Denmark.

    Honore is sadly out due to injuries from the team sweeping crash in BP 🙁

    Cort will be riding in service for Valgreen – Apparently he thinks he ows him for his 2018 TDF stage and Valgreen is reported ‘back to normal’ after 2y.

    Domestic commentators has doubt about Fuglsangs form and age this year and are concerned about his Ardennes campaign after Basque Country.

    Domestic commentators and apparently Jumbo-Visma & Roglic himself has high hopes for Vingegaard in all 3 Ardennes races.

    Kragh and Kron has not been mentioned …but a different dane could pop up and surprise: Kamp.

    • Thanks, injuries mounting up for Quickstep with Bagioli out too. Interesting if Valgren is back and the course could suit. Had my eye on Kamp too but hard to see a win, also wondering about his team mate non-Dane Simmons at Trek-Segafredo, very good in the Strade Bianche but lots of DNFs.

      • Amstel should fit Kamp near perfectly just like Brabantse Pijl where he was 8th in 2019. He is strong, climbs quite well and packs a near-sprinter sprint finish. His 2020 WT debut in 2020 didn’t go well, but he looked good in Catalonia (Basque Country would always be out of his domaine).

        Honore will be out for Flèche too, but should return in Liege.

    • What, if anything, has been Valgren’s issue for the last couple of years? He was red hot at Astana. Was it just he moved to the wrong team at the wrong time?

      • Wrong team, moved to Monaco, got an altitude tent. Did the southafrican team win a single race in 2019/2020? Valgren did get his act together in late 2020 with a better than expected perfomance at worlds and slowly got better during the Vuelta.
        He started 2021 by breaking his hand in Omloeb. He was there in Flanders two weeks ago but was caught up the crash with Asgreen and his front wheel collapsed on the following Kwaremont/Patterberg just has he caught back.

  2. Feels like much of the field is there to get in the swing of things ready for La Fleche and Liège: Gaudu, Carapaz, Pidcock, Kelderman, Chavez, Fuglsang, Poels, Higuita, Martin, Barguil… The climbs are not long or steep enough for them, and the finish is too easy.

    And how strange it is to see such a race and GVA without even a single ring! His results havn’t been that bad.

  3. It is a shame Kasper Asgreen is not on a start list. I think with his body build, his is more suited to the less hilly classics, so this would be his last opportunity.

    • I was wondering the same — if anything, the mild gradients and shorter distance seem to put this in reach of more riders than INRNG lists, but perhaps the repeated efforts is too much for some? Seems a mild course compared to the final 100km of Flanders or the 2020 Worlds, for example. I wonder if any of van Baarle, GVA or Stuyven (if he’s riding) could do anything?

      • So, his choice is stay where he is and target one-day classics, like Alaphilippe, or become part of the Ineos TdF train, like Kwiatkowski and win far fewer races than you otherwise probably would have. I strongly suspect that money is pretty much the only reason anyone chooses the latter.

        • Last season Sky/Ineos was more fun to watch with multiple riders having options to contest. Although it was at the back of failure of the main GC riders, it seems that the old Sky style of racing is more used by Jumbo Visma these days. Obviously, money is one of the key factors, but going to Ineos for KA is not a completely wrong move. I reckon he will still have the opportunity to contest spring classics (being a sole/co leader, not one of many in DQS squad), but will need to do pay back his wages while pacing the peleton during Tours.

          • Ineos raced the way they did last year, most notably at the Giro, because they’d lost their leader and no longer have the strongest GC rider. When they first appeared and Wiggins head wasn’t right, Froome hadn’t appeared and Thomas was still a chubby faced track rider they did the same sort of thing. I can remember a Tour, 2010 or 11, when they won stages with Thomas and Boassan-Hagen in the absence of having anything else to do.

      • If it is anything to go by, Asgreen himself, has in numerous interviews stated, that he is happy where he is, and he hopes to continue with Deceuninck/Quickstep. So hopefully he will not commit the same failure as Boasson Hagen.

  4. +1
    «in past years when he’s shone in the Ardennes he’s done better in Baskenland too».
    Nice one, granted you are familiar with the danish language.

  5. A little correction: Geoghegan Hart is not on the Ineos start list, though they do have Golas, Rowe and Van Baarle for solid and in form support.

  6. Due to the closed circuit and absence of spectators this year’s version has already been dubbed the Amstel Ghost Race in the Dutch media.

  7. I have the feeling that this route make it closer to brabantse pijl than to liège. And I even think those climbs are less sharp than the BP ones.
    eyserbosweg, keutenberg, where are you?

  8. Pidcock won BP despite being dropped on a couple of climbs, which perhaps suggests that WVA would be wise to drop him before the finish. Or maybe just time his sprint better. Hirschi is my dark horse.

    • The race might be light this year but so are some of the riders, Pidcock is reported at 58kg.
      If WvA is such a favourite as IR suggests, perhaps a counter is to (again) draw the sting out of him and his team. I wonder if we will see moves go from distance, QS and maybe even Kwiatkowski?
      Though whether this course is hard enough to drop or isolate the Dutch team is another matter.
      I think you’re starting to see van Aert and MvdP get the Sagan treatment – everyone waiting for them to make the moves and close the gaps.
      And invariably they do.

      • Kwiatkowski is a shadow of his former self in one-day races. J-V seem to be managing to use WVA in their TdF train without blunting his one-day performances too much. Sky/Ineos never seem to have managed that (do they try?). I think Kwiatkowski was the type of rider who *could* have won every monument – and would have had a good chance in all of them bar Paris-Roubaix.

        • Remember JV had only been doing this very recently, since last year really. There was a train but they were overshadowed by Ineos in 2019. And of course WVA crashed out that year. Might have been a blessing in disguise.

          Kwiatkowski Had been at this for good part of last 4-5 years. There may have been a burn out as a result of trying to hold year long form multiple years in a row.

        • Agree on Kwiato’s potential in winning the monuments, but I think his actual performances have more to do with him becoming victim of his own aspirations. As he had admitted many times in interviews, riding for GC in TdF was his dream, so he probably never fully committed to one day races and could sacrifice a few characteristics in favour of managing longer climbs. If I recall his 2018 campaign, when he won three one week races (T-A, TdP and Volta ao Algarve), he didn’t really perform in classics. Maybe it was the time when he thought he was capable to ride for the GC in a grand tour. Then came the Vuelta which was really too much racing and also badly influenced his next season. He matched TdF with classics well in 2017 (winning Clasica San Sebastian) and in 2020 when he only narrowly missed on the podium spot in the Worlds and a few other races – perhaps because he hit form too early (when he dropped Froome and Thomas in Dauphine).

    • I’m tired of watching WVA racing like a super domestique for race winners, except when he won GW. He needs 1 or 2 team mates in the last 20K. Or ride like a super domestique for Roglic.

      • WVA barely won despite being at the front too much in the last few K’s. Why does he lead out every sprint? He almost lost again! I like him but he’s got to use some racing smarts.

        • There is something odd about it. I thought I’d turned on a stream of last week’s race…

          Though to be fair WvA seemed to be doing a lot less work on the front today in the final break.
          Whatever the case, Pidcock looks insanely strong. Like he doesn’t tire. What a shame that Evenepoel isn’t able to race this spring–I’d love to have seen these two go head to head in some of these races. Sort of a battle of the daycare brats.

        • Pidcock says he left it too late and should have jumped first, felt he was the fastest. Maybe Van Aert did the right thing?

          • Well, he did win. But what a risky strategy, no? And to do it twice? Wout v Aert seemed to realize he got lucky. But I guess one could say “well, it worked!”
            When Pidcock was interviewed I was disappointed that he missed the obvious joke: “I think the race should have been longer. Like 1 cm longer.”

          • Curious finish, wasn’t it? The TV pictures suggested Pidcock had it, by less than the thickness of a tyre, but the organisers were very quick to award it to Van Aert. I think once they’d done that, there was no going back. Is the official photo finish online? I presume it was slightly before the line shown by the TV camera. A screenshot from someone’s phone shown towards the end of the Eurosport coverage suggested it was just about a dead heat. The romantic in me thinks it would be lovely to see a finish so close that even modern technology can’t pick a winner. This was the tightest I can remember.

            The race was better than I anticipated. Or maybe my view was affected by happy memories of doing the sportive a few years ago, recognising the course, and telling my sons “I’ve ridden up there”. It’s that thing we love our sport: we can test ourselves on exactly the same roads, and Strava shows us how slow we are compared to the pros!

          • We’ve had tighter finishes in the sport before, Kittel winning a stage of the Tour de France in Nuits St. Georges ahead of Boasson Hagen was even closer. But we can have dead heats if the photo finish cannot tell riders apart, eg the U23 Worlds in 2010 where Phinney and Boivin shared the 3rd place/bronze medal.

            TV and smartphone images are one thing, but under the rules the photo finish is what counts, this has the high image speed and is supposed to be aligned with the finish line itself. There’s some debate over whether the camera was on the line or slightly in advance of it… but the rules – them again – say the photo finish decides. What would help is if the local company running the finish line for the organisers/or the organisers could post the actual finish line images rather than the third hand images doing the rounds still this morning.

          • Either way, it was a great race. Amstel Gold used to be as tediously predictable as Flèche Wallone but since they moved away from the Cauberg finish it’s thrown up cracker after cracker.

          • Seems insultingly obvious that the photo finish camera really has to be right on the line. And what other sport doesn’t show you that photo?

        • It’s true that WVA nearly lost the sprint. But if he’d tried to make Pidcock do more work by using another 2 seconds of cat and mouse then they both would have been passed by the chasing peloton. I’m not sure that there’s much more that he can do apart from lose a series of races so that the other teams stop marking him so carefully.

          He reminds me of the situation Cancellara found himself in for the 2011 cobbled classics – he’s so evidently the strongest rider so the race will come down to him vs the rest of the field. In Cancellara’s case he was frighteningly strong, and the races threw up some slightly suprising winners as many in the rest of the field were so busy trying to neutralise Cancellara.

          I re-watched the 2011 Ronde last year to compensate for the absence of spring racing and it’s a belter. I found it thrilling to watch it again, even though I watched in person in Geraardsbergen then watched the last 3 hours again on TV later that week and read Ed Pickering’s excellent book on The Ronde that re-lives the 2011 race.

    • I haven’t seen Woods on the provisional startlist. If he is then it’s interesting as he has the Olympics as a big goal and that race – if it happens – has a flat finish on a motor racing circuit so interested to see how he would sprint in a group.

  9. I don’t understand why some people deny the existence of the photo-finish. That photo-finish has been published, among others by the organizers of the Amstel Gold Race. And no, it’s not a (smartphone)photo of the photo-finish, as we had seen a few minutes after the finish. Most people don’t understand the technology of a photo-finish. Not registrating the distance between the two contenders, but registrating the time when finishing. And convert that time difference in a “distance” photo. And not showing the real white finishline. So, Van Aer wast clearly the winner, but very narrowly

    • Here’s the photo as per cyclingtips:

      It is interesting (and surprising) that there has been controversy in this race and in the women’s elite Brabantse Pijl a few days earlier. I saw a fair number of comments by cycling fans suggesting some kind of shady happenings behind the scenes in both cases, in both cases coming from the standpoint that the TV finish line photos were more accurate than the official photo finish. This isn’t new technology, and is used precisely because regular photography at a finish line isn’t nearly as accurate.

      In the case of the women’s race, Demi Vollering seemed to have learned a valuable lesson. At Brabanse Pijl, she started celebrating before crossing the line, and almost certainly cost herself the victory because Ruth Winder did a perfect bike throw. A few days later, she almost nipped a celebrating Vos at Amstel Gold with a strong bike throw of her own.

      • Note that’s not the real photo though at CT – you can see the red lines are not parallel and the top of the image above Schachmann’s torso is either part of a screen above the image or paper – so think it is someone’s phone photo of the finish line photo 😉

    • Yes, indeed, but the discussion is whether the camera registering the photo-finish was indeed aligned with the black line between the two white lines, or whether it was aligned to another position. Some of these pictures out there seem to indicate that at AGR it was actually aligned to a position about 10 cm before the black line, which in this case just made the difference between win/loss for WVA.

      Well, anyway, as nobody could have imagined this scenario before the race, I guess Wout was just lucky this time. Next time it’s maybe different.

      • Very close finishes are not that rare a scenario.
        As for the black line, there’s an explanation in the comments of this article (the article is excellent too) –
        by Ulf Herold-Jensen, who I’m guessing is the ‘UHJ’ who posts here (and who is a UCI commissaire). His post says:
        ‘Often the cameras are aligned first – note that there are cameras on both sides of the line. Then, using laser guidance, the white/black finish line is place or painted along the laser line. this ensures to a certain degree consistency between the visible finish line and the invisible photo finish line. It really isn’t that complicated.’

    • Perhaps its because of some of the alleged chicanery involved in past editions of this race? RAI TV had Francesco Moser on the phone Sunday recounting some issues from his career, one of ’em seemed to be some nationalist favoritism shown to winner Jan Raas in one of the (many) years he won.
      Would the Dutch organizers prefer a Belgian winner over a British one?

      • Moser complaining about national favoritism seems a little rich, and reminiscent of an old saying about pots and kettles.

        I don’t really understand that controversy, it seems it’s just another instance where in the (relative) absence of data, people just want to believe in the contrarian version.

        I’m sure Pidcock will win on the WorldTour soon enough, he’s a talented lad, no need to invent conspiracy theories.

        • Moser was laughing during the conversation and I think some references were made to the infamous claims from Fignon that the Giro’s TV helicopter blew against him in the chrono stage while somehow blowing The Sheriff to victory 🙂

  10. The official photo makes it clear. Van Aert wins the race. Even you, Innerring, doesn’t seem to understand the technology of photo-finish. Nothing to do with a normal photo.

    • I understand how it works, even done whole blog posts about the rolling shutter, just would like to see *the* official photo, we don’t know if the photo of the image doing the rounds it the right one, the cameras have lots of settings and outputs. It probably is but would be good to see.

      One thing is the finish line services were provided by a smaller local company and they don’t seem to publish the image online when the likes of Tissot Timing put the official picture up in minutes.

      • But the photofinish image is not the issue. Even on the photo of the photo of the photo of the photofinish picture it’s quite clearly visible that Van Aert is a few mm ahead of Pidcock. The real issue seems to be that the photofinish machine was not aligned with the physical finish line on the street, but was standing some 10 to 20 cm before the finish line. It just happened that in this particular case (because Pidcock was coming with a higher speed from behind) Van Aert was in front 20 cm before the line, but possibly was not anymore at the line.

        But the photofinish camera was standing 20 cm before the line, so recorded Van Aert as the winner. And that has nothing to do with someone not wanting a British winner, but a Belgian one, but just with bad alignment of the photofinish camera, so pretty much just bad luck for Pidcock.

        Anyhow, the rules say that the photofinish picture determines the winner, so Van Aert won.

        • It’d still be useful to have the real image as sometimes several cameras in a row can be used. And just the satisfaction of the race saying “here’s the official image” etc.

          As for the alignment, yes that’s an issue but be careful with working out the distances, some people seem to be doing trigonometry via TV images only we don’t have the measurements so it could be 20cm, it could be more but could be 20mm etc

          • The reason why some people claim it’s been taken 20 cm before the finish line is the white/green/yellow background of the photofinish image. That can actually only come from the white/green/yellow Amstel Radler commercial which was standing before the line. Right on the finish line, there was a red Amstel commercial.

          • Having looked at the photo from the broadcast finish-line camera, I see what you’re talking about. But when I zoom in on that photo it appears to me the yellow Radler section of the sign ends very close to the leading edge of black “finishline” stripe on the road. Definitely no where near 20 cm, nor even 10. It does look like it ends just before the black stripe, but at best it’s a few cm, and I’m not even sure that’s the case since we don’t know how well that camera was aligned with the exact leading edge of the line. It appears to be a fairly wide-angle lens, and doesn’t seem to have captured the exact moment the wheel breaks the plane of the finish.

          • Yes, maybe 20 cm is a bit exaggerated, but it could easily be 10 cm.
            In this tweet you can find the three pictures you need to draw your conclusions.
            In fact the photo finish camera is always placed in the white parts of the finish line, to have a better contrast with the black tires. But it should be “as close as possible” to the black line in the middle, which in this case was not quite correct, to be honest.

        • Where does the idea come from that the photofinish camera was 20 cm before the painted finish line? Is it because in the cell phone photo of the presumptive official photo we see a thin white and black lines just ahead of the red lines that are lined up on the front of the bike tires? Do people assume that’s the painted finish line? That may be an entirely false assumption.

          Look at the comparison between TV camera photo and the official photo of the finish between Vollering and Winder at Brabanse Pijl:

          Note how in the official photo (I assume due to the nature of the rolling shutter) we can’t even see the painted black and white stripes on the road! The body positions appear virtually identical, so they seem to have been taken at virtually the same instance, but there are no visual clues to tell us if the official photocam-determined finish line was ever so slightly before, or after, the painted finish line, or if they were indeed exactly on top of each other.

          In the photo of the photo of the finish at AGR, we don’t know that the thin black and white stripes signify. They do not appear to correspond to the painted stripes on the road in any way.

          • That idea comes from the background of the photofinish image. There is a grey/white/green/yellow pattern from bottom to top in the background of the image. Analysing the Amstel Radler commercial that was placed at the finish line, you can actually conclude that the photofinish camera was placed some 10 to 20 cm before the finish line, at a position where the o or the c in alcohol from the Radler commercial was placed. The reasoning is quite convincing. I don’t think you can actually question that. Nobody will ever admit it, of course.

            Anyway, the finish photo is the only reliable evidence there is, so there is no way back, regardless of where it was taken exactly.

            But it is a quite nice “curiosity”.

      • This tweet explains the reason why people think it’s been recorded some 20 cm before the “real” finish line. It has something to do with the yellow, green, white background, which can actually only come from the Amstel Radler commercial some 20 cm before the finish line. Exactly at the finish line, the background would have been red, as there was a red Amstel commercial there in the background.

        Die wit-groen-gele strook bovenin de finishfoto is dat stukje wit met groene letters (vandaar groene dunne streepjes in het wit op de foto), het stukje blad van die citroen, en een stuk citroen zelf. Dat is op de eerste cm's van die eerste witte strook, dus ≈25cm voor de streep.— Richard Burghout (@RichardBurghout) April 18, 2021

        • If you look at the overhead images of the finish it’s no so obvious, the start of the black line could line up with the Radler barrier, not the red Amstel one. But we don’t know, it’s hard to tell from different camera angles and perspectives, I’m a bit cautious about those who seem certain on the measurements here (not you Reinoud by the way, I can see you explaining things).

          • Yes, I have seen that as well, but it’s probably been taken from a large angle from the back, which makes it difficult to conclude.
            This twee actually has all the three pictures you actually need to draw you own conclusions:
            In the first picture you can see the commercial with quite high resolution, so you can actually go and look for the pattern in the background of the finish photo you can see in picture 2. In picture 3 you can then estimate where (more or less) the photofinish camera must have been positioned with respect to the finish line.
            All this of course under the assumption that none of these pictures was messed with with photoshop ;-).

        • I saw a clear shadow of a lander on that photo. It was clearly staged in the same studio they did the moon thing. And that mars heli stunt today.

  11. I defer to you if you have definite knowledge that the photofinish camera is set up to record the finish in the white section of the finish line, though this seems at odds with what I found as the official UCI regulations. What I found is the finish line is a 4 cm matt black line with 34 cm white lines on each side. A diagram in the handbook I found online indicates that the actual finish line is in the middle of that black line, and the winner is determined by a vertical line drawn up from that line to the leading edge of the front tire. In Leonard Zinn’s discussion about these photos, which Paul Banks linked below, he explains that because the photo is not like a typical photo (i.e., not instant in time, but instead a photo of everything moving through the vertical plane of the finish, so that the entire photo IS a photo of the finish line). As such, he notes that we don’t see the stripes on the road, and the entire ground plane ends up being grey or white. I’ve now looked at a lot of these photos, and one thing I note is that grey and white isn’t as usual as what I’ll call substantial color artifact. It makes me wonder if conclusions drawn about a patch of yellow/green are meaningful.

    Also, if you’re correct that the official finish line camera is routinely set up over the white part of the finish line, for the sake of better contrast, is there even a controversy here? Given that the white band in front of the black stripe is 34cm wide, would it really be surprising for the official line as determined by the official rolling-shutter camera to be 10 cm or so from the black band?

    • No, I’m not sure, I just think it’s likely. That the pattern is by accident the same as on the banner in the background seems unlikely.
      That the camera is usually aligned with the white part of the stripes for better contrast I read somewhere on Twitter today. That was a tweet by a guy who was used to do that and there were also some sort of instructions on how to install these camera’s. But I can’t find it back now. It was anyway in dutch. But I can’t control if this is indeed true… So it will remain a mystery. In my mind it’s pretty clear, but you don’t have to follow me. I’m glad Van Aert won anyway 😉

  12. In the woman’s race of the Brabantse Pijl last week, there was a similar controversy, by the way. One woman crossed the line in front on the TV images, but the other was declared the winner based on the photo finish image. There it seemed that the camera was behind the black line, as the woman that was coming from behind with higher speed got the win in the end, even though the TV pictures showed she was still a bit behind on the line. Even though on that photofinish there were also some patterns from the background, there were some additional red lines in the pattern and also the background was yellow. So one has to be indeed careful drawing conclusions. But in the AGR case the pattern was so similar to the one on the Amstel banner, that it’s quite unlikely that that is something that is created by the camera software?

  13. Ah, I found it back, here is the document where it’s explained how to set-up the camera correctly. And it’s apparently coming from the UCI itself. Look at page 12, you can see that the “correct” position is in the white area, quite a few cm away from the “real” finish line.
    In the case of AGR, they probably aligned it even a bit worse as on the picture on page 12, which explains the controversy.

    • Thanks for the link. Thanks to Inrng’s 2014 post discussing Lynx and their finish line cameras, I’d found the general manual for camera setup, but that focused on track (running) events, where it was emphasized that the camera needed to be aligned with a white finish line with small black squares marking the lanes, which seems like a system that pretty much guarantees the actual finish line and the camera’s recorded vertical plane are well aligned. Per Inrng’s post, I learned that the UCI manual I found is misleading – in a bike race the finish line is indeed the leading edge of the black stripe. Per the timekeeping guide you’ve provided, though, the actual measured finish line is just in front of that edge, somewhere in the 34cm white stripe. This seems like it’s a setup for confusion and mistakes, since seems to potentially allow for the camera to be placed well before the black stripe (say 20 cm), or for the camera plane to not be aligned perfectly parallel to the black stripe (in the case of AGR, if the camera was angled very slightly to the left, then the finish line for WvA would have been a tiny bit closer than it was for Pidcock, for example).

      Looking at the camera setup procedure for track events, it would make sense for the UCI to mandate two small 2cm by 2cm black squares on each side of the road within the leading 34cm white finish stripe, with each square set a prescribed distance (say 2cm) in front of the black stripe. Then the camera could be aligned with those black boxes and every race finish would be uniformly judged, and the measured finish would be quite close to the finish indicated by the stripe. If you look at this manual (, pages 3-2 through 3-5 or so, you’ll see how the small black boxes that are placed in the lane lines of a track event assure correct alignment in those races. In cycling races this would result in a pair of horizontal black stripes at the top and bottom of each finish line photo, which would be something of a marker of accurate camera setup.

      I’ve enjoyed this discussion, by the way. I’ve been fascinated by these cameras since I saw my first finish line photos when I was helping at a track and field event in college. The distorted images in running races are fascinating.

      • The athletics line uses the boxes but for cycling the line is wider so no need. The idea for the camera set-up is to use the white band as the start point and then align onto the black line – not several centimetres before as some think – but then go to back one, ideally one pixel, onto the white so that:
        a) they can get the line right, eg it is not diagonal
        b) the rider/wheel crossing this line is the one reaching the black line
        c) the white line helps contrast tires which are typically black on top/the outer edge

        No one is going to align the camera diagonally across the white band, or at least that would be rank amateur and it’s a professional set-up, it’s not run by UCI volunteers but by pros who make a living from owning/operating these devices. It’s probably more regular than some of the conspiratorial trigonometry doing the rounds.

        • Pardon me for not looking it up myself, but – if we forget the photo finish camera for a moment – how is it made sure that the white band/black line/white band is exactly perpendicular to the road? In other words: that it isn’t ever so slightly “diagonal” and therefore – theoretically – “unfair” to one of two riders riding abreast?
          I mean, the road may be dead straight in the common sense, but there is no straight line to measure the angle against, is there? You cannot just pick one spot on the right and one spot on the left side of the road and draw the line and assume it is where it “should” be.
          PS I’m not entirely serious, because it really doesn’t matter because in the end all that matters is the photo finish – and because a rider doesn’t leave his bike throw a millisecond later or time it too early because of any possible deviation from an abstract perfection.
          PPS Too bad Paris-Roubaix was postponed: it’s the one race where we can be fairly certain the finish line is right where it should be : D

          • I’ve seen races where the finish line wasn’t particularly perpendicular to the road, or at least the finish line was on a curved section of road and so the line is appreciably closer for riders on one side of the road compared to another. It’s always seemed to me this is something that a team should scout before the race, and let their riders know “be on the left in the final curve and don’t drift too far to the right.”

            In the case of a straight road, with laser measure tools it’s extremely easy to place a finish line that is almost perfectly perpendicular to the road. You can buy these tools at the local hardware store for very little money. The trickier part is placing the line when the road is curved, but again, a rider should have detailed knowledge of what the last km (at least!) of a race is all about, including the finish line.

        • My suggestion for the black boxes is that they would visually assure perfect alignment, but when setting up the camera, and in viewing the result. As I see it, the width of the white line is part of the problem – the camera could be significantly in front of the finish line, or misaligned with the finish line, and as long as it’s aimed within that 34cm wide white band is may not be obvious. If the system now is such that the camera is lined up with the leading edge of the black line, and then moved back a tiny amount, it seems to me that this final adjustment could be a place where some slight error could be introduced. I’ve worked with medical imaging technology, and even highly trained professionals sometimes make miniscule, inadvertent mistakes. Sometimes someone trips over a cable and vibrates sensitive equipment. Two small black boxes adjacent to the finish line (and they could be as small as the camera can handle, and be touching the black line) on the near side and far side of the finish line would be visual proof in the photo that the alignment was perfect (in addition to making the initial alignment virtually foolproof).

          Here’s some quotes from the Lynx manual I linked above:
          P. 3-7 “The Plane of the Finishline illustrates the “plane of the finish line.” This is an imaginary line which continues the finish line beyond the boundaries of the track. A correctly aligned camera MUST be positioned somewhere along this line. You can either extend the finish line visually by sighting along the finish line, or you can establish its position by means of a string stretched along the finish line and extending beyond the track to the camera.
          Figure 18 – The Plane of the Finishline
          As mentioned above, a correctly aligned camera MUST be on this line, but, unfortunately, it is perfectly possible to have an incorrectly aligned camera on the line – as you will see.”

          P. 3-9 “The finish line seems to get narrower, and thus harder to find, the further away from it the camera is. [this refers to cameras mounted on a scaffold] Very little angular movement in the tripod head can translate into an enormous physical distance on the track.
          As a side effect of the point above, an extremely solid mounting should be used on windy days. Also, no one should be allowed near the area where the camera is mounted, as the vibrations of someone climbing a scaffold, for example, can put the camera in and out of alignment.” Given all the activity at a finish line, jostling the camera mount doesn’t seem impossible.

          In discussing swivel misalignment (p. 3-18), they say this:
          “One of the most frustrating alignment problems can occur when the camera is slightly off swivel; that is, rotated to one side or the other. The symptom of this is a picture which shows perfect alignment (white background/black lines) in some lanes and misalignment (black background/white lanes) in others; this only occurs if the camera is fairly close to being in line.”

          Since in cycling the finish line is black instead of white, and because there are no small black squares within the finish line as in track, this obvious visual clue of misalignment doesn’t exist. Given that the camera is aligned on the white band, there seems no good way to discern if this kind of misalignment can happen.

          Sorry to go on about this; it’s more of my curiosity that I’ve dived into this. I have no reason to contest the results of the women’s BP or the men’s AGR, and I think the conspiracy minded folks are way off base. I have faith that the photo finish cameras get the correct result virtually every time, and when they might not it’s still far more accurate than a naked-eye judgment. Further, in all sports there are judgements and results that have a certain amount of “slop” and randomness, especially in cycling, and the finish line photo is one of the more exact and certain aspects of bicycle racing. That said, aligning these cameras could be a more straightforward and transparent. Trained professionals still make mistakes when they operate in systems that lack sufficient checks.

  14. And yet some still seem not to understand photo-finish technology. Nothing to do with finish-lines (yellow, white, apple blue see green….haha), tv-cameras etc. Photo-finish is NOT an ordinary, traditional photo. It measures the time when the contenders pass the photo-finish line. The photo-finish was installed way before the arrival of the riders. And it’s the only arrival technology that matters. Even if the photo-finish was placed before or behind the line (which was not the case) It’s a shame some question the result. And Qitus sums it up well :” I saw a clear shadow of a lander on that photo. It was clearly staged in the same studio they did the moon thing. And that mars heli stunt today. Huzzah!”
    I hope conspicary madmen (the same corona deniers ?) no longer pollute cycling.
    And by the way. Those people can start another discussion. Given by current events. Did or did not Roglic had a motor in his bike during the Amstel Gold Race ?

    • If you think someone in this discussion didn’t “understand photo-finish technology”, please comment directly (and stick to the subject). Don’t put yourself on a high horse by talking about “some” and then proceeding to kindly explaining to us all things that we were familiar with before you were born (as the saying goes).

    • Yes, we all know how photo finishes work. The reason why I believe it’s not been setup correctly, is a cognitive quite demanding exercise of analyzing the background of the photofinish image, because the photofinish camera will obviously also record the background at the exact location of the finish line and that all the time, from the first rider to the last one. It just happens that this background is not the same as the background on the location of the physical finish line on the ground, but it’s the background a few cm in front of that finish line.
      Anyway, as you say very correctly, it doesn’t matter. WVA is the correct winner, as only the photofinish image is deciding who wins, wherever it’s positioned. But I hope they just make sure that in the future it’s as close as possible to the actual finish line on the ground as possible, otherwise it’s just misleading and can lead to frustrations (Either of riders thinking they have won, or readers who have to read boring posts analyzing the exact location of the photofinish camera).

    • He won MSR and AMG leading out, and lost Flanders not leading out. For me he does too much work during classic races, but that makes for great watching

  15. Probably the only change necessary when it comes to photo finishes is stopping the TV director (or whoever is responsible) from arbitrarily declaring the winner right after the finish – 5-10 minutes before the actual decision is taken. (Very much reminds me of political elections that have actually been decided in this manner.)

    • As the TV caption declared Van Aert the winner, I’m not sure that aspect needs to be changed. I assumed the director must have seen the photo finish – or at least been told what it showed – since the camera that was at the line showed Pidcock apparently ahead. Matt Stephens on Eurosport quickly, and rightly, pointed out the TV picture was not the official result – although it shouldn’t be that difficult to align the two.
      Looking forward to Fleche Wallonne today. Let’s hope for another close finish, but not one that raises so many “interesting” technical questions…

      • But the TV director didn’t know the result – the photo finish had not been analysed (that took about 10 minutes).
        It was pure luck (50/50) that they got it right.
        It’s pretty simple: the technology decides, and the line on the road is only an approximation of that actual line. The photographs themselves are merely representations of that (which is why in the photos WVA’s bike appears to be both ahead of Pidcock’s and behind – his back wheel is behind Pidcock’s).

  16. Perhaps characteristically for this race, it was Valverde who refused to chase when the top three made the attack that counted, as Kwiat let the gap go.

    Oh, and brilliant ride by Mauri Vansevenant – chased back on two or three times from mechanicals, and then still managed to pull on the front for Alaphilippe.

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