A peloton of women sitting around on the road.

Trying to make sense of the women’s Amstel Gold Race

Neutralization, near breakaway success, a game of chicken, and an early celebration added up to one heck of a bike race.

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 15.04.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Bike racing is weird on a good day, but this year’s edition of the Amstel Gold Race takes the cake. An early neutralization ultimately led to a shortened race, only 54 km from when the flag dropped a second time. Perhaps the altered distance scrambled some tactics because for a while it looked as though the win would come from a group of three.

In the end, Marianne Vos took the victory when Lorena Wiebes celebrated too early, a mystifying end to an abnormal day.

Tactics? Never heard of them

Lidl-Trek came into the race swearing Shirin van Anrooij was their leader, but Elisa Longo Borghini seemed to have the best legs of the American team. The Italian almost created a race-winning move with around 40 km still remaining, a move containing two of the other favourites in Kasia Niewiadoma and Demi Vollering.

The move decimated the peloton, though it did come back together shortly after the Cauberg was crested. Lifeplus-Wahoo, Uno-X and Movistar were all teams that threw riders at the front of the peloton to bring the break back, but it was mostly a lack of effort from the riders up front that killed the attempt.

Immediately after the six-rider move was brought back, another three-rider break went clear, including two Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift stage winners in Ricarda Bauernfeind (Canyon-SRAM) and Yara Kastelijn (Fenix-Deceuninck). They were also joined by Eva van Agt (Visma-Lease a Bike), meaning the team of Vos was off the hook to chase. The two big teams to miss the move were Lidl-Trek and SD Worx-Protime, but despite the break gaining almost a minute and a half, the powerhouse teams seemed more interested in playing chicken.

The chicken game is one SD Worx-Protime has been employing regularly. No one wants to help them and chase something down, but other teams have ambitions too. SD Worx-Protime acts like they are willing to lose – we saw this at the Tour de France Femmes stage 3 last year when DSM-Firmenich PostNL bit and ended up working, only for Wiebes to win the sprint.

The tactic does work for the Dutch team – other teams have been known to take the bait – but on Sunday no one seemed willing to step forward.

At this point, only 23 km remained and the trio up front had over a minute. Not a chase in sight.

Call it confidence, or perhaps carelessness, they were playing a dangerous game. Even when an attack from Longo Borghini brought the advantage down significantly, as soon as she was caught the gap blew out again to almost a minute.

Too close to call

It wasn’t until the final 4 km that Lidl-Trek finally caved to SD Worx-Protime’s bluff and sent Ellen van Dijk to the front. With Lucinda Brand, the American team dashed the hopes of the three up the road, while the Dutch team of the world champion got a free ride.

An attack by Australian Amanda Spratt on the Cauberg put the final nail in the coffin of the breakaway – not Longo Borghini, who won Brabantse Pijl earlier in the week – but the situation wasn’t perfect. The work done by Brand and Van Dijk had brought the break back, but the rest of the team wasn’t well positioned to take advantage of the speed. SD Worx-Protime was similarly poorly placed.

As the reduced peloton came to the top of the Cauberg, they stalled. Attacks from Niewiadoma were useless against such a large group. It would be a day for the remaining fast finishers, Vos and Wiebes, both with teammates to help out. Not that the sprinters used them …

Vollering set the pace into the finale, with Van Agt, who had been in the three-rider break, and Anna Henderson close by. Surprisingly, Vos and Wiebes were both much farther down the group, behind Longo Borghini.

Longo Borghini opened up the sprint and effectively led out both Wiebes and Vos. The Italian did make it hard for them by moving up against the barrier, but the two experienced sprinters were able to squeeze through a small gap on the left of the Lidl-Trek rider.

It’s not over until it’s over

It wasn’t a traditional lead-out for either Vos or Wiebes. Vollering kept the speed high, but Wiebes was way on the other side of the group, nowhere near the Dutch champion. And Vos chose to be on Wiebes’s wheel instead of Henderson.

In the sprint, Wiebes, who has been undefeated in sprint finishes this year, had the most speed …

But the Dutchwoman stopped pedalling way too early, allowing Vos to edge by her on the line.

It’s not the first time an over-excited rider has stopped their sprint and allowed a competitor to get the best of them. Vollering did it in Brabantse Pijl in 2021 and Ruth Winder (now Edwards) was able to squeak by. On the men’s side it’s happened quite a few times in recent seasons: notably, then-world champion Julian Alaphilippe at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2020; Wout van Aert at the 2022 Critérium du Dauphiné; and most recently, Tobias Halland Johannessen at the Classic Var

At the end of the effectively 54 km race, Vos was victorious and Wiebes left in tears. But after a hilly event like the Amstel Gold Race, and when the day was weird already, it’s always best to keep sprinting well past the line. Or else your game of chicken ends with egg on your face.

Two things are for sure, SD Worx-Protime will play chicken again, and Wiebes will never stop pedalling until she hits the finish line, not without taking a good look round first.

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