SD Worx and Tadej Pogačar seem unstoppable: Five things we learned from the Amstel Gold Race

Ben Healy has his breakout moment, Annemiek van Vleuten fades and Tom Pidcock is back but not at Pogačar's level

Demi Vollering and Tadej Pogačar at the Amstel Gold Race
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Amstel Gold Race has thrilled in recent years, with photo finishes and victories coming seemingly out of nowhere - Mathieu van der Poel's stunning win in 2019 comes to mind. 

However, this year, both races went to type, with the two triumphant riders in the men's and women's races more or less the favourites at the beginning of the day. 

Demi Vollering proved that Paris-Roubaix and Brabantse Pijl were the exceptions to service-as-usual, which means an SD Worx win. Likewise, in his first race back since the Tour of Flanders - which he also won - Tadej Pogačar once again reaffirmed the obvious fact that he is the man to beat in every race he takes part in.

There were other conclusions to take from the first of the three Ardennes Classics, ahead of Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège this week. Those who are at the front in one are likely to be up there in the others, so there's a lot to learn. Ben Healy had his breakout performance in the men's Amstel Gold, while Tom Pidcock looked on his way back to his best on Sunday - but that best might still not be good enough to beat Pogačar.

In the women's race, SD Worx still look unbeatable, while Annemiek van Vleuten continues to look a bit off the pace, on terrain where she has been unbeatable before.

Tadej Pogačar takes Mathieu van der Poel's advice, attacks in the right place and wins. Next.

Amstel Gold Race

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tadej Pogačar has Mathieu van der Poel to thank for a bit of his win at the men’s Amstel Gold Race on Sunday. The UAE Team Emirates rider attacked on the Keutenberg after his Dutch rival reached out and told him to attack there.

Van der Poel did not race Amstel Gold after his victory at Paris-Roubaix at the weekend, but instead took the time to give Pogačar some advice. I'm sure his Alpecin-Deceuninck team, who raced on Sunday, are delighted that he's helping out the opposition.

“Mathieu van der Poel told me I should go on the Keutenberg. It is the hardest climb, and it suits me the most,” he said on Sunday. “He told me that three days ago, he sent me a message. I will thank him for the advice.”

In truth, Pogačar probably would have won anyway, such is his dominance in 2023. It was his 11th win of the season so far, which has taken in the Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior, the Ruta del Sol and Paris-Nice, and the Tour of Flanders. 

The biggest disappointments being fourth at Milan-San Remo and third at the E3 Saxo Classic is the sign of a pretty outrageous season.

The Slovenian will line up at La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, a race which he has never finished above ninth, in a rare low for him. On this form, one could see him clinching that on the Muur de Huy before winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège for a second time next Sunday.

No one can figure out how to stop SD Worx

Amstel Gold Race

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Same thing, different day. Once Demi Vollering and Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) got into the select leading group at the women's Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, it seemed like it was all over for the other riders. 

The Dutch team used their tried and tested method once again, with Vollering attacking and Kopecky hanging back. This meant that the group hesitated in its chase, knowing all too well that should they bring Vollering back, Kopecky would sprint to victory; in fact, the Belgian sprinted to second place, after her teammate had already soloed to the win.

Essentially, despite the same thing happening at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche, Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and at the Tour of Flanders, SD Worx's rivals have not figured out how to fight back against it.

People ask "why don't they chase", but clearly the motivation goes out of the group once one SD Worx rider has gone clear and another is still in the chase. It must feel futile.

Perhaps this is just what happens when one team has the best riders in the world, but other squads should be able to use their strength in depth as well. 

If Movistar could get Lianne Lippert, Floortje Mackaij, Annemiek van Vleuten and Emma Norsgaard fit and on form, something could change. Likewise Trek -Segafredo with Elisa Longo Borghini, Shirin van Anrooij, Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Balsamo, but sadly these teams have not had the ability to race full-strength so far in 2023.

Ben Healy, breakout star of the Spring?

Amstel Gold Race

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Now, the label of breakout star of the year might be a bit strong, but EF Education-EasyPost's Ben Healy is having a golden year so far. A first professional win at Coppi e Bartali was followed by a second at the GP Industria & Artigianato last month, so the Irishman was clearly already good. However, it is his form in the hillier Classics that have really caught the eye.

Second at Brabantse Pijl last week was a huge moment for the man from the West Midlands, but his second place at the Amstel Gold Race really laid a marker down for how good the 22-year-old could be. In his under-23 career he won stages at key development races like the Baby Giro and the Tour de l'Avenir, but in his second year at WorldTour level, he's really breaking through.

If he keeps this up, there's no reason that we won't see Healy winning a WorldTour race this year; perhaps not at the Ardennes this week, thanks to the form of Pogačar, but at stage of the Giro d'Italia is not too fanciful. 

Annemiek van Vleuten's prioritisation of the Grand Tours is becoming clear

Amstel Gold Race

(Image credit: Getty Images)

By this time last year, Annemiek van Vleuten had won three races, with two more second places, and two more fourth places. The year before, she had similarly won two races. In 2023, however, the Dutchwoman has a best-finish of third, on a stage of Valenciana, and was yet again away from the front of the race at Amstel Gold on Sunday.

The explanation, given by the Movistar rider as much as anyone else, is that she has targeted her training more at mountains ahead of her final tilt at the Giro d'Italia Donne and the Tour de France Femmes this summer. This is why she does not have the same explosivity as in previous years, as she is better in longer efforts and not on punchier climbs.

The issue is, at this stage of the season, the women's peloton has not really tackled anything like a mountain, so one has to take Van Vleuten's method as gospel, and assume it will pay off later this year. Of course, in all likelihood, she will blow everyone away on the Col du Tourmalet in July, but it is still odd to see her behind the front of a race.

Just watch the 40-year-old win Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday now, I guess, a race she has won twice before.

Tom Pidcock is back, but can he compete with the best of the best?

Amstel Gold Race

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tom Pidcock finished third at Amstel, in his best result since his stunning victory at Strade Bianche at the beginning of March, a race which feels like a lifetime ago now. The 23-year-old is clearly getting back to his best after he struggled with injuries after Tirreno-Adriatico, but is his best good enough to win against the best?

Tadej Pogačar, Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel have set the benchmark this Spring, and it feels like Pidcock might be a rung below this; his victories to date have not really come against this hardest of opposition. Only Van der Poel was present at Strade Bianche, and seemed below his best, while at Brabantse Pijl last year, only Van Aert was there, and beaten on the line, while his Tour de France stage came from the breakaway.

As a result, it seems a fair question to ask as to whether the man from Leeds can beat a Pogačar or a Van der Poel when they are all on their best day. The Amstel Gold Race seemed to answer the Pogačar question, but then Pidcock is on his way back. We might know more by the end of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

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