Amstel Gold Race Review

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Marc Hirschi attacks on the Geulhemmerberg, his third big attack of the day. Tiesj Benoot and Tom Pidcock follow, as does Mauri Vansevenant. Hirschi might have been the strongest on the day and his work helped the move go clear but the fatigue might have cost him and Pidcock would get the better of him.

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The early breakaway had just four riders. Tosh Van der Sande (Visma-Lease a Bike), Enzo Leijnse (DSM Firmenich-PostNL), Alexander Hajek (Bora-hansgrohe) and Zeb Kyffin (TDT-Unibet). It’s been a theme this spring that the early break doesn’t get time. Four minutes is the World Tour limit, some unwritten rule that the break and bunch can’t go beyond. Ineos and Alpecin-Deceuninck holding the gap before the breakaway was caught with 80km to go.

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There’s always a fight for position and riders sprinting into corners but the intensity went up a notch just inside 60km when Soudal-Quickstep’s Louis Vervaeke attacked and he was joined by Mikkel Honoré (EF) and Paul Lapeira (Decathlon-Ag2r). It looked like a ruse to force to chase and trio were often looking back to see where the bunch was. The answer was “in sight”.

The Gulperbergweg climb came with 44km to go and Michał Kwiatkowski took a few metres going into to the climb and then launched. Mathieu van der Poel chased in person and it looked like an attack was coming. Only here was a different beast. Floating on pavé a week ago, suddenly he seemed less agile, his upper body and legs didn’t seem to be one unit; if he was dancing on the pedals this was more someone’s uncle at a wedding than last weekend’s exhibition. As soon as Kwiatkowski sat down, so did Van der Poel and what was left of the bunch spread across the road.

Onto the Kruijsberg and Alpecin-Deceuninck had two on the front for Van der Poel. Only the climb came and went. It can be where a major selection happens and everyone seemed to be waiting for Van der Poel to attack, bracing themselves for the effort. But nothing, niks. Likewise on the Eyserbosweg although Richard Carapaz surged – Honoré was still, just, up the road – with Van der Poel marking him. Again more riders were dropped but no flamboyant attack.

Instead of waiting for the next climb Marc Hirschi made a serious move with 35km to go. Many of the main climbs in the race are small even if some sting but the Swiss rider launched on an unmarked rise and was joined by Roger Adria, Bauke Mollema and Valentin Madouas. Mauri Vansevenant bridged to them. Pello Bilbao too. More floated across with Kevin Vauquelin, Tiesj Benoot, Quentin Pacher and Tom Pidcock and they caught the breakaway on the Keutenberg with Benoot surging and taking Hirshi, Pidcock and Vansevenant clear – the same quartet as we’d see later – but Honoré helped bring things back. Pidcock’s presence here was the big deal although Bilbao, Madouas and Benoot were co-leaders too.

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It left a simple matter of subtraction: 12 riders from 11 teams were up the road. With 24 teams in the race that equalled 13 teams left to chase, or 12 since because Cofidis were not there (all DNF as it happens, a rare feat but Astana did it in the Tour of Flanders too). Given some squads only had a tired rider hanging on, the arithmetic favoured the group and more so since they had team mates behind to sap the chase.

Hirschi attacked the break on the Cauberg where Paul Lapeira matched him and the rest came back, except for Honoré. Behind the peloton accelerated and chomped twenty seconds lead with Lidl-Trek’s Mattias Skjelmose making a big move that suggested few were counting on Mollema up front. But the breakaway was still clear and Bilbao attacked the descent but Hirschi and Pidcock, them again, covered him.

Hirschi made another big move on the Geulhemmerberg, third time lucky for him as it’d stay away to the finish. Benoot was there with Vansevenant and Pidcock. Benoot’s long pull over the top helped prise them away. With his partner due to give birth any day now, Benoot wasn’t even sure to start the race, perhaps he was in a hurry.

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As a quartet they all had a clear motivation to get to the finish to contest the win or at least the podium, they looked committed. The chase from the group behind was working but the classic stand-off, the group had more riders but because of this some were missing turns or taking an economy pull. Sensing this Bilbao tried to bridge but couldn’t make it.

Behind EF chased hard with Richard Carapaz and Ben Healy working for Marijn van der Berg. They didn’t get much help and so couldn’t bring back the breakaway. Van der Berg would crash on a corner soon too but it was over for the peloton now, just UCI points left.

Pidcock made a move on the last climb of the day which surprised as it suggested he didn’t fancy his chances in a sprint but Benoot drove across. Lapeira tried to get across but couldn’t. Benoot tried a late attack but if some riders are explosive he’s inert, powerful in gradual efforts but he couldn’t get a gap. The quartet could see the chasers and Vansevenant started the sprint with 300m to go and Pidcock went with 150m to go while Hirschi was behind. There was a headwind but Hirschi could neither find the opening or the speed and Pidcock was clear to sit up and celebrate, no photofinish worries this time.

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The Verdict
A lively edition that forced viewers to watch until the end. Time gaps were tight, there was suspense but it wasn’t a full thriller, that needed more attacks and reversals of fortunes were needed. This was a good edition, not a great. But it’s most interesting to compare it not to other years of the Amstel but to other races this spring. Here it was entertaining because it was like watching racing from a different era, no galatico, no extraterrestrial who we may admire but who bends the race to their will and turns the final hour into a victory procession. Likewise no single team was in charge.

Marc Hirschi looked the strongest, his three attacks shaped the final result but Pidcock proved quicker in the sprint and was able to match him in the hills. For Pidcock it’s his first win on the road in over a year. He’s potentially a star rider – he won the Strade Bianche with a solo move that we normally think on Pogačar can pull off – but his win rate and the fact that he had to snipe Hirschi in the sprint shows why he isn’t in the same bracket as Van der Poel. He rode a tactically astute race: efficient, always in the right moves, his late attack was the surprise but otherwise it was out of the Kwiatkowski handbook. Benoot was strong throughout and that’s his hallmark, a haul of top-10 results but very few wins among them while Vansevenant was a ray of sunshine for Soudal-Quickstep who will give the team more confidence for Liège.

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Rival mountain biker Van der Poel didn’t have a Sunday to write home about, often so visible thanks to full white shorts and rainbow jersey but also because he was always near the front. Yet he barely attacked, his chase of Kwiatkowski was as far as things went with talk that he did one ride too many during the week. His focus is still on Liège but that’s looking harder as his team were harassed by rivals and he’ll find even hillier terrain. But he’s got nothing to lose.

Two wins in France, a Basque stage make it hard to say Paul Lapeira was a revelation but it was still a further breakthrough in a long race, on the attack 60km to go and still making moves in the final.

We start Ardennes week officially with Flèche Wallonne, the most scripted finish of the season but perfect for a Wednesday afternoon, before Liège on Sunday. The Tour of the Alps starts today to provide us with sport and clues ahead of the Giro too.

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26 thoughts on “Amstel Gold Race Review”

  1. Great race, weather and scenery once again, with a worthy, aggressive winner.
    Sometimes it is good to watch the ‘gods’ in a race and decide they might not have the legs on the day. Well done MVDP for finishing with mere mortals, when climbing off would have been the easy option.

    • I can’t help but wonder if MVdP was keeping his powder dry for next weekend. As good as he is, I don’t think he would be capable of winning four major races over four weekends (including three monuments), and one would assume that he would rather that “unlikely” monument rather than an Amstel win.

      • On any sort of inclined sprint, they underestimate the rate in reduction of speed when they stop pedaling and throw their hands in the air. I recall Vos sniping Vollering(?), I believe, in exactly the same way in the Giro Donna a few years back. Weibes is amazing and has a lot of wins in her future but that will sting.

        • Are you thinking of Ruth Winder beating Vollering at Brabantse Pijl Dames in 2021? No, just looked it up, and I think you mean Vos beating Lucy Kennedy in 2019 at the Giro Rosa, though that was a much steeper finish than in Amstel Gold and Kennedy thought she was going to win solo.

    • The Freire-Zabel photo is still one of the most memorable, with the German noticing what’s happening in the very moment ^___^

      We tend to focus on the mistake, but the event happening on the very line has been determined by actions and situations happening tens of metres before. Normally *from within* just as the athletes believing they got it have got (eventually not so) good reasons to think so, the rest equally sees clearly the race is surely (?) lost. In fact, this final turn of events is relatively rare despite sprinters raising arms all the time winning a thick mass sprint for fractions of a second. With this premise, what’s exceptional is the determination of the athlete who forces their sprinting effort all the way down to the extreme bike throw, even against what looked the “obvious” result. Knowing the peak of will and pain implied in sprinting, short in seconds but with a Nolan-like expansion of time in the mind and body of the sprinters, it’s really impressive.

      Vos, what a champion!

  2. I had the impression that Hirschi found himself boxed in as they neared the line and his sprint came too late as a result. That is all part of it of course but both he and Pidcock were worthy of their finishing positions.

  3. “For Pidcock it’s his first win on the road in over a year. He’s potentially a star rider – he won the Strade Bianche with a solo move that we normally think on Pogačar can pull off – but his win rate and the fact that he had to snipe Hirschi in the sprint shows why he isn’t in the same bracket as Van der Poel”

    Few people are in the same bracket on current form.
    I think if Pidcock dedicated his time a little more to the road (if he even wants to) then the results will come – he didn’t have the most consistent season last year with incidents and injuries. Also, VDP is 4-5 years his senior, so time is on his side.

    • I’m a big fan of the way Pidcock goes racing. That he’s sometimes bracketed with VDP and WVA is to his credit, as you say he is a few years younger and has quite a different physique. To this point I recall reading or seeing an interview with him where he said he sets his goals but acknowledges he may not achieve them right away, that he knows he needs two or three goes to get where he wants to. His palmares seems to reflect this. And what a rich and varied palmares they are, across all those disciplines.

      Amstel Gold once again proving great viewing. In the UK the BBC have been reporting it as the ‘Gold Race’! Maybe a misunderstanding of the sponsor’s role here… will be interesting to see what Flanders do with it.

      • He did an interview with Red Bull (now on You Tube) late last year, and he’s changed his mind on specialising in one discipline. He thought he’d have to, but now realises that mixing it up keeps him fresh and motivated.

        In the last 6 months he’s won a XCO World Cup, a CX World Cup and now a World Tour road race……no one else has done that, man or woman. He deserves more credit than he gets…….

      • I think our host nails it with “out of the Kwiato handbook line”. Pidcock is never going to command a race like others can do, but he can be quite successful with the skills he has a la Kwiato, who himself has never been the favorite in races he’s won.

    • I can’t help wondering if Pidcock is being ruined at Ineos by trying to turn him into a Grand Tour winner, when his great strength seems to be a sharpness in tactics and positioning. The way he is – and has been since his first season – just always present when the key moves go in classics makes me think he should concentrate on one day races. I wonder if his win at Alpe d’Huez has made Ineos think he is something he’s not. Yes, that win was incredibly impressive for a young rider – but let’s remember it came from a break, which is a different proposition from arriving at the foot of the climb in a leading group with the GC contenders and winning from there.

      I think with focus he is a legitimate contender for any classic – whether Milan San Remo, cobbled, Ardennes or Lombardy. But I’d be amazed if he wins a grand tour in his career.

      • Pidcock has been very clear that his main target is a GT, nothing to do with Ineos pressuring him.

        I’ve always felt that he is tactically very clever which is what allows him to live with much stronger riders. I’d really like to see how that plays out in a GT.

  4. It’s hard to say but it looked like Pidcock’s attack upped the pace in the front group enough to stop Lapeira getting across. I doubt it was what he was intending but as a result it perhaps signalled to the others that he might be doubting his chances in the sprint giving them greater confidence in their own chances and thus they were all prepared to ride.

    It had a similar feel to his Strade Bianche win where it could have very easily gone down differently if other riders had chosen to work or not.

    I can’t help but think that van der Poel still had an influence on the race. How many in the peloton didn’t want to pull him back to the front or sat tight thinking it would still come back together.

  5. I’ve long thought that the quality of a race depends on the medium it is consumed in. By which I mean there are great races for TV, and great races for prose, and they aren’t the same.

    As fans, we often mythologise great performances from the past – we think of Coppi at San Remo in 1946, or Hinault at Liege in 1980. But they are races made great by the subsequent skill of a journalist writing prose. How exciting a spectacle on TV is it when the winner attacks from far out and rides alone for over an hour, with the result basically a foregone conclusion from the moment they move? This spring we’ve had our answer at Strade Bianchi, and the point rammed home at E3, Flanders and Roubaix.

    The exploits of Pogacar and even more VdP this spring will be talked about for years to come: they will be the reference points for future great exploits. (Already you have to back thirty years to find a longer solo move in Paris Roubaix). But such exploits are best captured in prose: there wasn’t much for the TV audience. Whereas Amstel this year was made for TV, with an exciting last hour and the result in doubt to the final bike throw (though thankfully not in doubt for minutes after, unlike both 2021 and 2022!).

    Don’t get me wrong: Pogacar and VdP are giants of the road, and Pogacar I believe is the first rider in forty years who can be legitimately included in a conversation about the all time greats – if he keeps winning at the same rate as now for another few seasons. But it’s a useful corrective to over-mythologising the past. Was Milan San Remo 1946 a great win? Yes, possibly one of the greatest ever. Would I have wanted to watch it from start to finish? Less likely …

    • Good point, but … 🙂
      As was said here by inrng in the past, there’s thrilling tv and there’s slow tv – and we can enjoy both. Watching Mvdp or Pogačar going at it solo for an hour+ is great slow tv. And as you say, the source of conversations and prose for years to come.

      • Shorter, as Cancellara’s. The reference is Tchmil’s, whose raid, by the way, was just 300 mts. longer than MvdP’s, and still the most extended one in postwar (after 1945) P-Rs. Although Tchmil’s and MvdP’s were significantly, not marginally, longer, I believe that they all belong to the same category. I don’t find them so boring, but much emotion depends on the chase, really, and more on their attitude rather than pure realistic chances or times. Attitude (and decent strategy) were really lacking among rivals, recently. I understand that, of course, but it feels a case of having already lost before the race was even started.
        We happen to be watching again athletes belonging to the very top layer ever in this specific exercise (cycling in cobbled Classics, beside the rest…), as it was with Cancellara and Boonen. It would be surprising if many rival athletes could match them very often.
        With all the weight of luck, accidents, rivals effectively ganging up… in the 2005-2013 period, Tom & Fabian won 7/9 Paris-Roubaix (plus podia in 2002, 2014, 2016). And 6/10 Ronde 2005-2014 despite the “Devolder effect”.

    • I really enjoyed reading this Tom J and thank you for posting.

      Also nice to see Gabriele back and thank you for giving wider context, I remember these eras and it’s nice to have the long view.

      I can see all arguments and am on the fence mostly, as both sides of the coin are fair – but my conclusions are probably slightly different is all.

      The one thing I think you missed Tom J is that although the Amstel racing was clearly better, for me at least it was also slightly lessened knowing how easily Pogacar dropped Pidcock last year and likely would again had he been there (plus MVDP seemingly holding back and WVA out). So in essence we got an interesting enough race that was enjoyable but second tier… so it was fun watching but hard to shake that niggle.

      I find for all the rideaways/les formidables steamrollering races the pay off you get is that when they truly face off you get a race for the ages – I would take ten dull races for every 2023 Flanders if I’m honest, because that’s simply the best one day race I’ve ever seen and one of my best memories ever as a cycling fan.

      I’m still in the camp that can enjoy this generations greatness so haven’t been as bored by Pog/MVDP’s mega wins as others but I do fully understand many peoples frustrations.

      Gabriele’s overview of changing era’s is a strong argument to stay patient as soon we may have more riders on this elite level and what’s a golden generation may become a golden era but I personally (and I don’t expect others to agree) have found this generation slightly different to those previously in that their highs (Flanders ‘23, MSR ‘23, first half of last years Tour) have truly highlighted for me what is possible for cycling fans to enjoy but how rarely we see it because of a schedule that’s too easily blighted by injuries, differing forms peaks etc etc.

      I had never felt this so acutely before but as a fan I find myself in the weird position of being absurdly excited for when the big six riders contest races in top form but knowing that’s likely only a handful of times a season and then it’s incredibly disappointing when it doesn’t happen… plus being unable to escape their shadow in races they don’t contest… no previous generation has cast a shadow over the season like this bunch and the truth of it might simply be Pogacar?

      You used to be able to compartmentalise all the different riders and parts of the season and move from one to the other taking a different kind of joy from each – but Pog being willing and able to contest races throughout a season has opened a window to a different type of season (harking back to generations before most of us were watching) that I would love to see more of and the sport adapting however possible to encourage more riders like him to come through so it was a regular occurrence not a freak one that a Tour winner would also race the classics and win. Simply because it just elevates the intrigue/excitement and allows for feuds/rider face offs to run through the year/entire season rather than be compartmentalised to brief month long segments which are easily ruined by a unfortunate clash of wheels…

      Nibali was the first to give us a sense what this might be like (I was elated when he won MSR) but Pog has truly shattered the wall and I find it hard to go back now, it’s feels like Pandora’s Box has been opened and we now really understand how good cycling must have been back in the day – even more so now all the bad luck this season has led to losing the big WVA/MVDP classics showdown, Remco/Pog at Liege for a second year running and likely Vin/Pog at the Tour for what also might be a second year running…

      Amstel to me just highlighted another aspect of what this generation are doing to cycling in what you feel when they don’t show up – which is why I feel like the shift they’ve caused is more radical than what Gabriele’s outlines.

      But he may well be right and either way I will just treasure what we get in this five year spell and hope that Pog is not a once in blue moon occurrence and instead ushers through a new generation who truly break the three decade era of rider compartmentalisation and if the structure of the sport can help that change along I’ll be fully for any adaptations that up the regularity of classic seasons like last year and tours like the first half of last year.

      Conversely I will still enjoy all racing and races without the super talents as I did Amstel last weekend, it was a good race and in isolation, the perfect antidote to the previous weeks domination.

  6. A very enjoyable ‘normal’ race. I suspect Liege will revert to type. Or recent type. For years it was slammed for being a dull grind with no one willing to attack, and usually won by Valverde. I suspect it will get Pogacar’d this year.

    • The Liège as the Sanremo and probably any race if you look close enough is an example of things going through phases or cycles that everybody in the moment feels as absolute, set in stone or longer lasting than they actually are. The bunch sprint fest around the turn of century had generated a feeling that the Sanremo route might need some changing, which then really touched an apex in the transition years of the first half of the 10s. Now after nearly a decade on a different music, but on the very same course, very few are left asking for those extra climbs. The story shows a couple of points: first, that the sprint fest was due to the historical succession of absolute champions, be them the best pure sprinters ever (Cav, Cipo and Petacchi on a lesser level yet very close to that couple in terms of skills) or two of the “most perfect” athletes you could ever imagine for that sort of finale, i.e. Zabel and Freire. Now we’ve been granted a number of athletes with that shocking 1 to 5 mins effort range including burst of attacking watts and the race became a different sort of show. Secondly, it’s also worth noting that few complained when Zabel, Cipo, Petacchi, Cav or Freire were winning, repetition by serial winners only made more worthy those single victories by “purer” sprinters, and even more so the surprise triumphs against the odds by other top athletes like Tchmil (cf. his Roubaix record attack), Bettini, Pozzato, Cancellara, which actually prevented the race from ending in a bunch sprint more than 3 times in a row. Yet, that vague sensation of too much of a “closed” race exploded when a set of slightly “lesser” riders, for a pure matter of generational shift, made it more of a set piece in 2011-2016. In Italy the debate was boiling up every March, “how can we change the Sanremo?”. It was a 6 years spell and it was well over before any change was even tried. Now the race has a strong identity again, of course with its lovers and haters, but the issue looks more conceptual.
      The Liège got a favourable and well-needed route adaptation, as the Amstel, which always requires some trial & error. Yet, it’s worth noting that until the full 2000s decade included, and probably up to 2012 it was a hugely exciting race in which the couple of Valverde wins looked like an exception, even a well-needed one to make even clearer the pressure towards an attacking approach. The problem was when the Valverdian format became the standard and some “smaller Valverdes” (in terms of absolute quality) all tried to win the same way, trying to be more Valverde than Valverde himself and sometimes even succeeding. Yet again, it was just a 5-year spell, long enough for sure but not an eternity, then after some tweaking and twisting the course prompted more interesting racing style, and it even became compelling in recent years, “notwithstanding”, so to say, the long solo raid which were indeed fine for several reasons.
      (By the way, looking at previous editions I’d say it will be rather a case of Pogačar “evenepoeling” this, if he’ll be able to do so…)

      The so-called Monuments are such, and rightly so, because 5-6 years must be put into perspective against a background of decades, and they have such an intrinsic weight that they end up coming on top again even after some lacklustre period. Which, of course, is no excuse to avoid change, adaptation, improvement etc., just saying they can and should be granted the privilege of patience.

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