Pogačar and His Superb Solo at the Amstel Gold Race

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Tadej Pogačar continued his dominant spring season on Sunday by winning the one-day Amstel Gold Race after another long-distance solo ride. Riding in a breakaway group with Tom Pidcock (Ineos-Grenadiers) and Ben Healy (EF Edication-EasyPost), he accelerated on the Keutenberg climb (1.2 km at an average gradient of 6.7%, with a maximum of 14.7%), with 28.5 km to go in the race, and was never again threatened.

The UAE Team Emirates leader crossed the finish line, after more than 6 hours of racing, 38 seconds ahead of Healy. Pidcock faded badly and finished 2 minutes 14 seconds adrift. With the victory, Pogačar became only the fourth rider to win the Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold Race in the same year.

The Amstel Gold Race is a very gruelling one in that it includes 33 short, steep climbs, for a total altitude gain of 3,290 metres, over its 253.6-kilometre route. Though it is not, strictly speaking, in the Ardennes mountain range, it is considered part of the three-race Ardennes classics series, with Liège–Bastogne–Liège and La Flèche Wallonne to follow.

For the organizers of this Dutch classic, Pogačar’s commanding performance must have come as a relief after photo-finish controversies in the previous two years forced them to upgrade their finish-line technology. In 2021, Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert and Pidcock raced head-to-head on the final stretch and crossed the line simultaneously. The finish line photos were less than perfect, but van Aert was declared the winner. Last year, Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R Citroën) was declared the winner after battling Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers) over the final meters. But the jury changed its decision after looking at the photos. Pogačar made sure that the finish would not be an issue this year.

Amstel Gold Race Peloton
The pack in action during the 2023 Amstel Gold Race. © Profimedia

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the 24-year-old Slovenian because he had trouble with his bike over a long stretch of the race and could not get a team car to help him. “I was on a sort of flat tyre for many kilometres in the front and I was doubting I could come to the finish solo,” he told Eurosport after the race. “I was really frustrated because we didn’t have cars for such a long time, but we managed to get the bike just in time before the final climbs. It was really tight, and really nervous, at one moment.”

The fight for the victory began with 88.5 km to go when a group of 16 riders, including Pidcock, Healy, Pogačar and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Qazaqstan), broke away on a narrow stretch of road. Pogačar was very active early in the breakaway, increasing the pace on the climbs to keep the peloton at bay and put some pain into the legs of his fellow breakaway riders. His efforts soon reduced the size of the breakaway group to 11. With 36 km to go, Pidcock, Pogačar and Healy broke away from the breakaway and raced together until the two-time Tour de France winner had had enough of their company and left them behind.

Pogačar said he had not expected such an early decisive breakaway. “I saw some really good riders in that group, so I jumped to the front,” he explained, and said that he had received some good advice from an unexpected source. “Mathieu van der Poel told me I should go on the Keutenberg and it is the hardest climb and it suits me the most,” he said. “He told me that three days ago; he sent me a message. I will thank him for the advice.”

Pogačar has had a phenomenal spring road race season, winning Paris-Nice, the Vuelta a Andalucia, the Tour of Flanders and now the Amstel Gold Race. And he has hit on the perfect strategy for winning one-day races, where he has been vulnerable in the past in sprint finishes. Now he shakes off his rivals on difficult climbs with some distance to go in the race, takes off on his own and challenges his rivals to catch him. They never do.