After the paved sectors, there are now many small hills and winding roads. On Sunday April 16, the women's and men's cycling pelotons met in the Netherlands, in Limburg, for the Amstel Gold Race. A rendezvous with the air of a hyphen between the Flanders and Ardennes classics, whose top step of the podium had an air of deja vu.
Starting with the usual suspect: Tadej Pocagar. Two weeks after his demonstration on the Tour of Flanders, the Slovenian from UAE Emirates added a new line to his record, a new solo success, and joins Eddy Merckx a little more in the history of the discipline. Already victorious this season in the Strade Bianche, A Travers la Flandre, then 2nd in the Tour of Flanders and the Flèche Brabançonne, the Dutchwoman Demi Wollering (SD Worx) got the better of her rivals at the end of the some 156 kilometers of the women's race.
Tadej Pogacar's new masterstroke
His participation had only been announced a few days before the deadline and Tadej Pogacar had made no secret of his ambitions. Not content with having already raised his arms ten times since the start of the season, hadn't the little "cannibal" confided before the race "my spring is already a great success but I'm still hungry"? Especially since the only Dutch classic on the calendar corresponds to its profile: 253 kilometers of a nervous route, punctuated by 33 often short and dry climbs.
On Sunday, the double winner of the Tour de France (2020, 2021) showed that his appetite for victory was insatiable. His first attack was placed 90 kilometers from the finish, judged in Berg en Terblijt. Then the 24-year-old prodigy multiplied them, gradually, to defeat his rivals one by one.
While the line was still about thirty kilometers away, he took advantage of the Keutenberg (1.5 km with an average gradient of 6.7%) to drop off the last two riders who had managed to stay in his wheel: Tom Pidock ( Ineos Grenadiers) and Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) – who will finish 3rd and 2nd respectively. The first Frenchman, Axel Zingle (Cofidis), is 10th.
Tadej Pogacar had only started from the Amstel once before this Sunday. In 2019, the one who was only neopro had not finished the race. Four years later, "Pogi", whom Eddy Merckx himself dubbed as his successor, follows the footsteps of the Belgian legend a little more: they are the only two riders in the history of cycling to be awarded the Grande Boucle, the Ronde and the Amstel.
Demi Vollering's "well-executed" plan and SD Worx
Among the women, Demi Vollering, 2nd in the Tour de France last summer, won a little earlier, in front of her home crowd, after a suspenseful race. Extended by 28 kilometers this year, with 21 climbs on the program, the event was made all the more complicated by the thick drizzle which fell in the region for a good part of the day.
From the halfway point, Marta Cavalli's chances of a double were ruled out. Author of an impressive 2022 season on the spring classics, she threw in the towel before Valkenburg. In difficulty on her first meetings of the year, the Italian from FDJ-Suez is still affected by her accident which occurred last July, during the 2nd stage of the Grande Boucle.
Despite an impressive collective, like Grace Brown (6th) very prominent on Sunday, her teammates failed to thwart the plans of SD Worx. The 2023 edition of the Amstel, which saw the favorites at the forefront throughout the day, was finally played out in the final ascent of the Cauberg. A climb that got the better of world champion Annemieck van Vleuten (Movistar)'s hopes of winning one of the few races missing from her impressive track record; she who will retire from the peloton at the end of the year.
1.7 km from the finish, Demi Vollering struck a blow at her competitors with an unstoppable attack, to offer herself her first success in the event in which she had finished 2nd in 2022 and 2021. "I don't still can't believe it, that was the plan and once again we executed it very well," she said after her victory.
“I wanted to attack at the top of the Cauberg and I saw that many runners had already given up. I thought it was perfect for us and Lotte [Kopecky, her teammate at SD Worx] still looked very good and she was behind, if I gave her the signal to leave. »
For good reason, the Belgian is a formidable opponent in the event of a sprint finish. The latter, victorious in the Tour of Flanders a fortnight earlier, finally had to settle for 2nd place. Dutchwoman Shirin van Anrooij (Trek-Segafredo) completes the podium. The first Frenchwoman, Juliette Labous (DSM), is 18th.
From Wednesday, the women's and men's pelotons will tackle the Ardennes, with La Flèche Wallonne, on April 19, then Liège-Bastogne-Liège, on April 23.