Amstel Gold Race 2024: Can anyone get the better of Mathieu van der Poel?

Can we expect another solo MVDP victory, or will his rivals be able to respond on Sunday?

The cobbles are fading away for another year, and the steep climbs of the Ardennes await the peloton. Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday was the first warm-up for the riders who are hoping that punchy bergs suit them better than brutal pavé, and on Sunday, the stakes get higher with Amstel Gold Race

Starting in the Dutch town of Maastricht, Amstel Gold Race takes in some of the Limburg region’s most testing climbs. There isn’t as much climbing as in races like La Flèche Wallonne or Liège-Bastogne-Liège which come later in the Ardennes block, but there are still some tough ascents which provide springboards for attacks and split up the peloton each year. Last year, defending champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) launched his winning move on the Keutenberg which comes 30 kilometres from the finish, dropping Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) and Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) to solo to an emphatic victory. Healy rode to a strong second and Pidcock narrowly held off a storming reduced peloton for third place.

In 2024, Pogačar won’t start at the Amstel Gold Race, only choosing to ride Liège-Bastogne-Liège this year. With the Slovenian superstar out of the running, the hot favourite on Sunday is, naturally, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix winner, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck.) The world champion won Amstel Gold Race in 2019 from a reduced group sprint, and has been on eye-wateringly good form so far this season, obliterating the peloton with his solo attacks. Can we expect a rerun of De Ronde and the Hell of the North at Amstel, with Van der Poel deciding the race outcome still with more than 50 kilometres left to race?

Last year's winning move at Amstel Gold Race 2023 including Tom Pidcock, Ben Healy and Tadej Pogačar (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)

With Remco Evenepoel (Soudal–Quick-Step) out of Amstel following his crash in Itzulia Basque Country and Pogačar also absent on Sunday, it’s certainly hard to look past Van der Poel for Sunday’s race. The pressure is off the Dutchman’s shoulders given his incredible Classics campaign so far, and his climbing performance in Flanders a few weeks ago indicates that the punchy terrain in Limburg will be no challenge for Van der Poel. He also has a special affinity with Amstel Gold Race, with many regarding his 2019 victory as a breakthrough win for the Alpecin rider given the impressive way he rode: catching and sprinting past the front group of favourites in the closing kilometres. Although he likely won’t end up needing them, Van der Poel also has a stellar team around him on Sunday, with Søren Kragh Andersen, Quinten Hermans, Axel Laurance and even Jasper Philipsen talking to the start of Amstel.

Still, there are those who won’t want to go down without a fight on Sunday. Last year’s third place finisher, Pidcock, will start and is well-suited to the parcours of Amstel Gold Race. The British rider’s last-minute Roubaix participation showed his eagerness to race and his performance in that race was respectable (despite it not being particularly suited to his strengths). There’s also recent Brabantse Pijl winner, Benoît Cosnefroy of Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale Team to consider. The Frenchman finished a close second place at Amstel in 2022 behind Michał Kwiatkowski (who will also race for the Ineos Grenadiers, but hasn’t been on noteworthy form so far this season) and always manages to have a good showing in the Ardennes.

Tiesj Benoot during the 2024 edition of the Tour of Flanders (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)

Visma-Lease a Bike might be without an injured Wout van Aert, but they still have a line-up which could seriously challenge that of Alpecin-Decununick, with Matteo Jorgenson and Tiesj Benoot both options for victory on Sunday. Paris-Nice winner Jorgenson has been a revelation of the early season races, though he has been suffering with illness since before Roubaix, and Benoot finished third in Amstel in 2022. UAE Team Emirates are another team who, even without Pogačar, have a roster which is stacked with talent, including Brandon McNulty, João Almeida, Marc Hirschi and Juan Ayuso. 

With some of the bigger teams focused on Van der Poel on Sunday, this could also make way for some outsiders to try their hand at opportunistic attacks. Lidl-Trek’s Mattias Skjelmose is a rider who comes to mind here – the Danish rider won a stage of Paris-Nice earlier this year and will be one of the strongest climbers in the race. He will need to try some attacks to put pressure on some of the faster finishers so he has a shot at going to the line in a small group, or alone. Dylan Teuns of Israel-Premier Tech is another rider who has taken a big step up this season, finishing eighth in the Tour of Flanders and second in Brabantse Pijl a few days ago. Teuns isn’t Belgium’s only chance at success in Amstel either, with Maxim van Gils of Lotto-Dstny also in with a shot at victory – he finished third in Strade Bianche earlier this season and secured a top-10 in the Amstel Gold Race last year.

While Van der Poel is clearly the main favourite for Sunday, his team will have their work cut out for them to mark all attacks on the winding, punchy Amstel Gold Race parcours. It’s not going to be an easy race to control with so many contenders in with a shot of victory, but Van der Poel’s rivals will need to race aggressively, putting the Alpecin-Deceuninck rider under pressure to take some of the sting out of his inevitable attack when it comes. It might be a tall order to get the better of the Dutch rider on Sunday, but nothing is impossible, especially if rival teams anticipate his move and race bravely.

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