Pidcock Wins Amstel Gold Race as van der Poel Rues Missing Legs

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Just when you thought Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceunick) had forgotten how to lose – he remembered. At the same time, INEOS Grenadiers and Tom Pidcock finally remembered how to win a big race. The UK team had won only two stages this year and Pidcock hadn’t won a road race since the Strade Bianche over a year ago. But the 24-year-old Briton put an end to both streaks by winning Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race by being the fastest in a four-rider sprint to the finish.

The win also put an end to three years of frustration for Pidcock who thought he had beaten Wout van Aert (Visma–Lease a Bike) in a photo-finish at the 2021 Amstel Gold Race but the Belgian was declared the winner despite the photo appearing to show a hair’s-breadth win for his rival.

“I was going to say it’s great to win for the second time but that might create some controversy,” the winner joked during his post-race interview. “But this feels really good!” INEOS is grooming Pidcock for a strong Tour de France showing this year, so he has put in extra training hours. In addition, he crashed while reconnoitring the first stage of the Itzulia Basque Country and had to pull out of the race, so it has been a rough few months for the rider, as he noted after the race.

“This year, the start has been so tough with big sacrifices and being away from home so much, so to finally put it together and get the hands in the air means a lot,” Pidcock said. “I felt half in control in the sprint. My hand [injury] after Paris-Roubaix meant I was struggling to sprint and I had a lot of shoulder pain, so I wasn’t that confident. But that’s how it ended up.”

Pidcock joined one of several breakaways that rode away from the peloton with 35 km to go in the 253.6 km race, as an uncharacteristically passive van der Poel chose to stay with the main bunch. Perhaps, he was waiting for some of his teammates to help him up the road. But, unusually, he was all on his own.

Pidcock eventually became part of an 11-rider breakaway that included such strong riders as Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates), Tiesj Benoot (Visma–Lease a Bike), and Mauri Vansevenant (Soudal QuickStep) and began putting serious distance between themselves and van der Poel and the peloton. Those four riders eventually left their breakaway colleagues behind and opened a lead of 37 seconds on the peloton with 12 km to go, as viewers and riders must have been asking themselves, “Where is van der Poel?”

2024 Amstel Gold Race
Just when you thought Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceunick) had forgotten how to lose – he remembered. © Profimedia

The reigning road race world champion was still in the peloton, apparently unable or unwilling to race for the win. The breakaway’s lead remained at 32 to 38 seconds, despite the best efforts of EF Education–EasyPost’s Ben Healy who was working hard to bring the peloton into contention. In vain, for the win played out between Pidcock, Hirschi, Benoot, and Vansevenant as they sprinted for the line, with the British rider beating Hirschi by the length of a wheel. Benoot completed the podium. Van der Poel finished 22nd, at 11 seconds.

“It was a difficult race. I didn’t feel great, but I was okay,” van der Poel told NOS after the race. “My plan was to cross the Keutenberg with the best riders, but they rode away. That’s a bit of a shame, but overall we did well… I certainly didn’t have the legs of the past few weeks.”

He had been very confident before the race, telling journalists, “Who do I consider my main rivals? As you know, I’m not very concerned with that. Neither have I looked at the participants list yet. It may sound [like a] cliché, but I mainly go by my own strength and that of our team. We have proven in recent weeks that as a team, we can take control of the race when necessary.” Van der Poel was coming off successive stunning wins in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, in which he and his team dominated and easily won.

He also said before the race that it was important to maintain his winning form for another 10 days, adding: “That will be necessary because both in Amstel and next Sunday in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, we will have a field of competitors with other, perhaps fresher riders.”

Van der Poel’s participation in Liège had been uncertain but now it appears that the decision had been made for him to ride against a fresh Tadej Pogačar in that race. So it’s possible – even likely, given his and his team’s passivity throughout the Amstel Gold – that they used the race to prepare for next Sunday’s prestigious Monument and the most challenging rival he has faced this year.

If both riders start the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, it should be the highlight of the Classics season that has lacked a little suspense because of the domination of Alpecin-Deceuninck and its superstar rider. In van der Poel and Pogačar, the race will have arguably the two best road racers in the world going head to head. Let’s just hope that the weather cooperates and provides ideal conditions.