Wiebes's lament: Killer instinct and an early celebration land Marianne Vos an unusual Amstel Gold Race victory

A reduced race gave the sprinters a rare chance at victory in Limburg

Out of everyone in the peloton, no riders are more used to winning than Marianne Vos (Visma-Lease a Bike) and Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx). In terms of sheer quantity of victories, nobody comes close to Vos. Her triumph at Dwars door Vlaanderen has been regarded as the 250th of her career on the road, but when you add the many other unofficial races, and those in other disciplines like mountain biking, cyclo-cross and track, she’s felt the experience of winning many times more. And in terms of recent years, nobody has been as prolific as Wiebes, who has raced to over three quarters of a century of wins before she’s even reached the age of 26, and currently leading the year tally for most victories for the third time in the last four seasons.

It might be this familiarity with winning so regularly that explains how Wiebes made the painful mistake of celebrating prematurely at the end of today’s Amstel Gold Race. Sprinting for victory in a large group that made it to the finish, she managed to just about find some space between Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek) and the barrier on the left-hand side of the road. At the front of the peloton and with clear road ahead of her, she must have believed victory was hers; this was, after all, a scenario she tends to always wind up victorious from. She looked over to her right once, saw both Borghini and Pfeiffer Georgi (Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL) drifting further behind; looked to her right again to see them still further away, and nobody else challenging; then, confident that it was in the bag, sat up and put her arms in the air to celebrate.

What she failed to realise was that there was a challenger, only from the other side of the road. While the riders to her right were defeated, she had not shut off the left-hand side of the road, where Vos was finishing fast. While Wiebes was easing off to celebrate, Vos lunged her bike to the line. A photo finish was required, but confirmed that Vos had indeed nabbed victory by half a wheel.

The finish underlined the difference experience can make. Wiebes may have won a lot of races, but she’s only been a professional for six years, compared to Vos' two decades, so it’s perhaps only natural that she’ll still show naivety from time to time. In fact, Vos has very nearly been in this same situation in reverse at this very same race in 2021, when she too celebrated early, risking losing the victory to Demi Vollering, who would have taken it if the finish line was mere centimetres further. Who knows, maybe this incident was in Vos’ subconscious mind as she continued to push all the way to the line, and make the final, race-winning bike throw?

Given how the race unfolded, you can forgive Wiebes for feeling over-confidant. This was a strange edition of Amstel Gold, significantly revised due to a road traffic accident involving a police motorbike. The race was delayed and neutralised for an extended period, and then significantly shortened, with just three laps of the finishing circuit and in total 55km raced after the delay. As a result, this was a much less selective edition than usual. There were attacks, but without as many climbs, and without as many kilometres raced earlier to wear down the legs, none were successful.

Ultimately, a group of 22 made it to the finish, bigger than at any Amstel Gold edition since the race was reintroduced to the calendar in 2017. And among them were Wiebes, who, having never made the top 25 of this race before, probably would not have expected to be sprinting for the victory, even taking into account her improved climbing this year. With her usual rivals Charlotte Kool, Elisa Balsamo and Chiara Consonni all missing, opting to skip a race that, in usual circumstances, they’d have no chance of winning, Wiebes was easily the quickest sprinter left in the group on paper, so must have sensed victory was in the bag — hence, perhaps, her complacency.

The tears shed by Wiebes at the finish suggest she may already have sensed how this was a rare, perhaps once in a lifetime, to win a race like this. Though prolific in Classics like Ronde van Drenthe and Scheldeprijs, and a winner of other sprinter-friendly races like Gent-Wevelgem and Brugge-De Panne, races with as much climbing in as Amstel Gold have always been just beyond her capabilities. Even the way she put her hands to her head during her ill-judged celebration expressed surprise at being able to pull off such a result.

One rider’s sorrow is another’s joy, and for Vos this victory continues another season in which her powers have shown no signs of diminishing. While she missed out in both cobbled Monuments the past two weekends, victories here, at Dwars door Vlaanderen and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad make her one of, if not the, riders of the season. Vos was typically magnanimous after the race, saying sympathetically that ‘it was a shame for Lorena’ to have lost that way, but was ruthless on the bike, once again calling upon her killer instinct to add yet another major victory in her incomparable palmarès.

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