‘Closest ever photo finish?’ - Cycling world reacts to Tom Pidcock and Wout van Aert’s thrilling Amstel Gold Race sprint 

The 218km race came down to margin of millimetres

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The 2021 Amstel Gold Race came down to an almost unbelievably close finish.

After Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) took another remarkably close sprint victory in the women’s race on Sunday morning (April 18), the men’s race then came down to an even smaller margin, as Tom Pidcock and Wout van Aert when wheel to wheel at the line.

Following a tense wait for the photo finish pictures to emerge, Jumbo-Visma’s Van Aert was crowned winner.

But the finish has continued to fuel debate in the cycling world, in what was an unforgettable day of racing in the Netherlands. 

Jumbo-Visma’s general manager Richard Plugge said: “I had just asked Marianne Vos this afternoon to please never make it this close and nervous for me anymore.

“Wout van Aert: Hold my beer.”

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The debate round the finish was sparked as the TV cameras appeared to show the result in favour of Ineos Grenadiers rider Pidcock, who surged from behind to get alongside Van Aert right at the finish.

But the photo finish picture later revealed the result in favour of the Belgian, who took his second major Classic win after the season, following victory in Ghent-Wevelgem. 

The narrow margin, has prompted many to question the accuracy of photo finish technology, including Pidcock himself, who said: “Yesterday’s photo seems to have created more questions than have been answered.”

Economics professor and cycling fan Daam Van Reeth was questioned the accuracy of photo finishes in cycling compared to other sports: “Honest question to experts in the field: is technology that is used in photo finish cycling solid enough to be sure about a difference of 4/1000 of a second? In skiing, for example, if the difference is less than 1/100 of a second, athletes are placed equal.” 

One cycling journalist referred asked if the 2021 Amstel Gold Race was the “closest ever finish in cycling?” 

Cycling Weekly Dr Hutch said: “An extra 10psi in the front tyre for Pidcock next time out then.” 

A behind-the-scenes video released by Jumbo-Visma also shows the conflicting emotions from inside the team car, as Van Aert awaited official confirmation of his victory. 

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UCI commissaire Jempi Jooren explained to Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad why it took so long for the winner to be confirmed: “ The TV cameras have a kind of wide-angle lens, which often gives a distorted image. I also thought that Pidcock won, I would put my hand in the fire for that. But the finish photo showed it was different. The difference should be a few millimetres, maybe it was an inch. A finish photo works with pixels. You cannot see a difference of less than a millimetre on those pixels.”

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Speaking after the finish, Van Aert said: “It was super tight because after the finish I didn’t know, actually.

>>> Five things we learned from Amstel Gold Race 2021

“A few moments later they said on the radio that I won, but another few moments later I saw some images on the big screen so then I was in doubt again. It took until the jury came into the changing room and said it was sure. It was just super tight. I never had something like this before.” 

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Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.  Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.