Amstel Gold Race 2024: A watershed moment for Tom Pidcock?

The Briton has finally succeeded in claiming his first Ardennes Classic and will now be counted among the top favourites for Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Just how good a rider is Tom Pidcock? On one hand, he’s viewed as a generational talent, someone with the rare ability to compete in a wide array of disciplines, from cobbled Classics and Grand Tours on the road, to cyclo-cross and mountain biking off it. On the other hand, he has been eclipsed by the other great Classics stars of this generation, Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Tadej Pogačar, and is prone to sometimes falling well short in the major races where he is tipped as a favourite.

At last year’s Tour of Flanders, for instance, he failed to feature during the business end of the race after making the rookie error of forgetting to eat enough. Later that year, a promising GC bid at the Tour de France unravelled when he lost time and fell out of the top ten during the second week. And at the Ardennes Classics the year before, where he was expected to be among the top contenders, he didn’t have the form to make the top ten in any of them.

These shortcomings have been interpreted by some as evidence that Pidcock isn’t quite fulfilling his potential, but it ought to be remembered that the Yorkshireman is still only 24 years old, and does therefore have plenty of time to improve and become more consistent. And for all the aforementioned disappointing results, he has delivered major victories with impressive frequency. In 2021, aged just 21, he claimed his first professional victory at the Brabantse Pijl classic (and, at least in his opinion, followed that up days later at Amstel Gold even if the controversial photo finish did officially judge Wout van Aert to have won); the following year he claimed a first Grand Tour stage, and not just any stage but the grandest of them all, atop Alpe d’Huez at the Tour de France; and last year he conquered one of the biggest Classics on the calendar, Strade Bianche, and in sensational fashion too via a sublime long-range attack. Add to that all of his successes in other forms of cycling during that time, you can’t fault a 24-year-old with that kind of palmarès. 

Today, he added Amstel Gold to that palmarès, with a performance that marks another major step in his career. For all his all-round ability, and ambitions to become a Grand Tour contender, it does seem as though the hilly Classics is where he excels the best. But before today, he’d never before won an Ardennes Classic, coming close but not quite winning the 2021 Amstel Gold and 2023 Liège–Bastogne–Liège, where he finished runner-up on both occasions. With this result today, though, he must now be considered one of the best puncheurs in the world for the hilly Classics, perhaps bettered only by Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel. 

It was clear from the early stages of today’s race that Ineos Grenadiers believed in him. They spent much of the early phase of the race leading the peloton, a choice that seemed, at the time, at best foolhardy, at work hubristic, given the superiority of Mathieu van der Poel and his Alpecin-Deceuninck team in recent weeks. Given the Dutchman's overwhelming status as race favourite, and the extraordinary strength his whole team showed in demolishing the opposition at Paris-Roubaix this time last week, surely it was sensible to leave it to them to do the donkey work? Yet Ineos took it upon themselves to control the race, even doing more work than Van der Poel’s teammates.

Ultimately, Ineos’ confidence in their leader was justified, even if his victory was as much about tactical smarts as it was strength. The race did not pan out as expected, for one simple reason: Mathieu van der Poel did not attack. Given the way he has raced this spring, winning Classics with unanswerable attacks seemingly further and further from the finish each time, it felt inevitable that he’d try something similar again today, and you sensed any of his rivals were waiting for him to make his move. But as the kilometres passed and no such move was forthcoming, it began to come clear that the Dutchman was not in the same form as he had been, perhaps tired from his huge efforts these past few weeks. 

With Van der Poel not shaping the race, it was up to others to take the initiative and attack themselves to get up the road, something Pidcock was smart enough to realise before the other top favourites. With 30km to go, just before the important climb of Keutenberg he managed to jump out of the peloton along with four other riders, and soon into a larger group that had formed a little earlier, while his main rivals were caught napping. This was a breakaway group almost perfect for him, containing representatives from enough different teams for there to be hesitation in the chase behind, but none of those teams' strongest riders.

If Pidcock’s making this initial selection had been down to tactical intelligence, his next moves depended on his strength. With 13km to go, he, Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates), Tiesj Benoot (Visma-Lease a Bike) and Mauri Vansevenant (Soudal–Quick-Step) used their superior climbing to go clear from the rest of the group on the Geulhemmerberg, the penultimate climb of the day. Then, after working well enough together to hold off the chase, come the sprint finish Pidcock had the quickest kick of the four, just about managing to hold off a late charge from Hirschi, the only rider from the group who realistically could have got the better of him in a sprint. 

With Amstel Gold in the bag, Pidcock now sets his sights on the Ardennes Classics. Whereas today was a tactical affair, these upcoming races tend to be less subtle, with La Flèche Wallonne decided every year by whoever sprints quickest up the Muur de Huy, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège a harder race that usually comes down to a war of attrition. Hirschi and Benoot are likely to be rivals again, given the form they showed today and their past consistency in these races. And though they missed the selection this time, the likes of Mathias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek), Max Van Gils (Lotto-Dstny), Benoît Cosnefroy (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale), Dylan Teuns (Israel-Premier Tech) and Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla) all appear in good enough form to challenge. Then, of course, a certain Tadej Pogačar is set to return for Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.

But on the basis of today, Pidcock must be counted among the top favourites for both — his next big win might not be too far on the horizon.

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