Van Aert edges one of closest finishes in recent memory
In what was an exciting, open Amstel Gold, featuring constant attacks for the final couple of hours without one rider emerging as a clear favourite throughout, the tension even carried over until after the finish line as we awaited confirmation for who had won in what was one of the closest photo finishes in recent memory.
In an uncanny repeat of what happened just four days ago at Brabantse Pijl, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) were again first and second in a three-man sprint, only this time it was unclear which of the two had come out on top.
Van Aert celebrated not long after crossing the line, after apparently being informed that he had won, but that result remained officially unconfirmed, leading to a prolonged period of tension.
Eventually — and not before the TV footage showed a commissaire zooming in on his smartphone on an image of the photo finish under inspection — Van Aert was confirmed as the victory, avoiding by the nearest of margins what would have been another frustrating near-miss.
Van Aert has been in truly astonishing form all spring, making the top six in all but one of the six Classics he’s taken part in, but you felt he needed another win to add to the one he earned at Gent-Wevelgem to really make his campaign a success.
With that second classic win now in the bag, he can now take some much-deserved time off from racing, before we see him again in the summer for the Critérium du Dauphine and Tour de France.
Jumbo-Visma do the double again
Just as they did at Gent-Wevelgem last month, Jumbo-Visma won the double of both the women’s and men’s Amstel Gold, again courtesy of the same two star riders — Marianne Vos and Wout van Aert.
Whereas the women’s team rode a relatively passive race, relying instead on Vos’ discretion and other teams’ work to bring back the race for a sprint, the men’s team was one of the main protagonists, either infiltrating attacks or leading the chase behind.
Key to their success was Primož Roglič. So far this spring Van Aert has been left to do a lot of work by himself in the Classics, and has sometimes appeared to pay for his efforts in the finale of races, where he has lost out in sprints you’d usually expect him to win.
This time, however, he had about as strong a rider as anyone could hope to have working for them, and indeed Roglič did a superb job of covering attacks so that Van Aert did not have to. A puncture on the final ascent of the Cauberg brought an unfortunate end to his race, but by then his work had already been done.
A well-rested Van Aert was quickest in the final three-man sprint, and able to defeat the very man who got the better of him just four days earlier at Brabantse Pijl — and in such a close finish, the energy saved from having Roglič to help him earlier likely made the decisive difference.
Vos again uses sprint to win her first Amstel Gold
Eight and a half years after claiming victory at the 2012 World Championships in Valkenburg, Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) returned to the Limburg region of the Netherlands to tick yet another achievement off in her career by winning Amstel Gold for the first time.
Although this victory does not follow quite such a frustrating run of near misses as that Worlds victory (she had won silver medal in each of the previous five editions), her previous failure to win her home classic since it was first introduced in 2017 had been a cause for frustration.
The contrasting manner in which both these victories came about reveal just how much she has evolved as a rider in that time. In 2012 she was at the peak of her powers and won with what was then a trademark explosive attack on the Cauberg that no-one was able to respond to.
She’s not capable of producing quite so much power these days but has still retained her lethal finishing kick, with which, along with her considerable racing nous, she continues to win prolifically — including Amstel Gold today.
After staying calm while multiple attacks were made in the finale, Vos was top favourite for the sprint once everything came back for a small group sprint in the final few hundred meters. Demi Vollering (SD Worx) pushed her close, but Vos’ sprint was once again superior to all her rivals.
The result means she’s now added two new Classics to her palmarès, having also won Gent-Wevelgem for the first time last month. Could she add another at Liège-Bastogne-Liège next week? That race will be harder and less likely to end in a sprint, but riding like this it’s certainly a possibility.
Pidcock leads a fine Ineos Grenadiers performance
Tom Pidcock has certainly lived up to the hype this spring, and today came within the smallest margin imaginable from winning one of the biggest races on the calendar.
Despite having been a feature in the Classics since late February, when he earned a podium finish at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, rather than tiring the 21-year-old has reached an even higher level of form. He performed brilliantly on Wednesday to claim his first-ever pro win on the road at Brabantse Pijl, and backed up that performance on a harder race with a more illustrious start-list to again make the final three-man selection with Van Aert and Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe).
He was part of an Ineos Grenadiers line-up who turned out to be the strongest team on the day. After the final ascent of the Cauberg, as the bell rang to indicate the beginning of the last lap they placed three riders (Richard Carapaz, Michal Kwiatkowski and Pidcock) in the small lead group of just seven riders. They used their numerical advantage well, too, with first Kwiatkowski going on the attack, then Pidcock countering as soon as the Pole was caught.
It might not have ended in victory, but it was an excellent performance from a team that has always struggled to replicate their stage race success in the Classics. At this rate, both Pidcock and the team as a whole stand a great chance of winning one of the upcoming Ardennes Classics later in the coming week.
A revised route doesn’t dilute the thrilling racing
Any fears that the revisions to the route forced by coronavirus precautions, which saw both races limited to multiple circuits of the same 17km route, would reduce the excitement factor of Amstel Gold were thankfully refuted.
The finale of the women’s race was a thrilling roller-coaster of fluctuating fortunes. First Grace Brown (BikeExchange) appeared as though she might be on the verge of one of her trademark solo wins; then, after Brown faded and was caught, Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and defending champion Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon SRAM) looked as though they have pulled out enough of an advantage over the rest on the Cauberg; until Borghini refused to work with the Pole, allowing the chasers to come back and contest a sprint.
Borghini’s decision not to work with Niewiadoma (presumably based on the assumption that she was bound to lose a two-up sprint between the pair) certainly added to the late drama, and an exasperated Niewiadoma could be heard pleading with her to help contribute.
There wasn’t any such disharmony between the trio that went clear in the finale of the men’s race, but the action prior to their escape had been just as thrilling. From about 70km to go the attacks started, and kept on coming as no group of riders were able to stay clear.
Only on the final ascent of the Cauberg were the selections finally made, and from here the final 18km were a thrill-a-minute, ending in a finishing sprint that will live long in the memory.