Amstel Gold Race director Leo van Vliet has made a strongly worded denial that the lead organisation car had any effect on the outcome of the Netherlands’ biggest Classic on Sunday.
Tadej Pogačar, the odds-on pre-race favourite following his devastatingly successful 2023 season to date, dominated affairs with a spectacular solo victory.
After launching multiple attacks, the Slovenian finally broke away alone with 29 kilometres to go, dropping the last two riders able to shadow him, EF Education-Easypost’s Ben Healy and Ineos Grenadiers’ Tom Pidcock.
The organisation vehicle, with Van Vliet in it, overtook Pogačar when his gap was on Healy was timed at 20 seconds with 10 kilometres to go. At the finish, the gap between Pogačar and Healy was 38 seconds.
TV footage showed the race director’s vehicle remained close ahead of Pogačar immediately after overtaking him, sparking furore among some social media users, and some pointedly sarcastic comments from EF manager Jonathan Vaughters.
“Quality work by #AGR23 race organizers… motorpaced (Derny) racing on the track is always the most exciting. So, guess they are bringing it to the road now,” Vaughters wrote on Twitter.
However, Van Vliet angrily dismissed claims that the time spent by the director’s car close ahead of Pogačar was in any way as long as a kilometre. He insisted that the race car had no choice but to spend a brief period of time in front of Pogačar for safety reasons.
“We were driving behind Tadej Pogačar and Ben Healy came closer, so you have to pass” he told AD newspaper.
“It is not true at all [that the car was in front for a kilometre]. Look at the TV images. It didn’t help him. I also raced myself. I can’t imagine that [it offered an advantage].
“Why would it do me any good to do that?” he added. “We were far enough ahead of him. There’s nothing wrong.”
Van Vliet pointed out that, as race director, he knew that the road was getting narrow shortly afterwards and that it would have been dangerous to try to put more distance between himself and Pogačar more quickly.
He pushed back at the idea that he would prefer to have Pogačar as a winner than Healy.
“Let them say that. I can’t do anything about that,” he said.
Pogačar and Vaughters have their say
Pogačar himself was asked about the incident in the post-race press conference, and he recognised that the car had been too close.
However, he pointed out that the lead director’s car’s pulling ahead of a breakaway was the kind of manouvre that happens in all races, not just Amstel Gold Race. He also backed up Van Vliet’s claim that it had not been for overly long.
“At one moment they were really quite close. I think it’s not nice, but they are doing this all the time, they are on the front, they pass, they go back. So it’s like this in the races,” Pogaćar said.
“I cannot do much, I can just ride as hard as possible always, but I don’t think it was too much time in the front, too close.”
Writing on Twitter, Vaughters conceded that even if Healy had managed to regain contact with Pogačar he would have likely lost in the sprint. Five days earlier, in Brabantse Pijl, that was exactly what happened when Healy was easily outduelled by Dorian Godon (AG2R Citröen) after the two reached the finish together.
But the EF-EasyPost manager argued strongly that there was still cause for complaint.
“I should say something a bit more productive and mature here: The issue is, we see vehicles changing the race results all the time. Sometimes in our favor, sometimes not. It just gets tiresome. Pog prob would have won in sprint; NOT the point. It just denigrates the racing.”
This year the Amstel Gold Race organisation brought in new photo finish equipment to try and resolve any potential controversy for a third straight year over deciding the winner.
In 2021, in a two-up sprint between Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), Van Aert was finally declared victorious by margin of millimetres and in 2022 Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R Citröen) was wrongly awarded the victory, only for it finally to go to Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers).
I should say something a bit more productive and mature here: The issue is, we see vehicles changing the race results all the time. Sometimes in our favor, sometimes not. It just gets tiresome. Pog prob would have won in sprint; NOT the point. It just denigrates the racing. https://t.co/QNAQKdsyJDApril 16, 2023