Tadej Pogačar yet again underlined his status as the best rider in the world this afternoon with a crushing solo victory at the Amstel Gold Race, adding yet another line to a frighteningly successful spring campaign that has also featured wins at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Nice.
However, the Slovenian superstar’s rampaging victory has been overshadowed somewhat by a brief period in the final ten kilometres when he benefitted, if completely unintentionally, from the slipstream provided by the driver of the race director’s car, who appeared to linger for a moment too long in front of the double Tour de France winner in what former UCI president Brian Cookson described as an “inexplicable and unacceptable” manoeuvre.
🔥Hay polémica entre aficionados, periodistas y hasta ciclistas en activo por esta situación!
🤔Que opinan amigos, 🇸🇮Tadej Pogacar se ha beneficiado de este auto para ganar la 🇳🇱Amstel Gold Race? 🇳🇱 #AGR2023 #AGR23 #AmstelGoldRace #Noticiclismo #Ciclismo
— NotiCiclismo ➡ 🇳🇱 #AGR2023 (@Noticiclismo1) April 16, 2023
The incident – which has sparked the third controversy in three years for the race organisers, following two photo finish dramas in 2022 and 2021 – occurred just as Ben Healy, the Irish rider who eventually finished second, began to close in on Pogačar.
After dropping Tom Pidcock with around 13km to go, EF Education-Easy Post’s promising 22-year-old had cut Pogačar’s lead from 35 seconds to just 19 in the space of three kilometres. However, following the Slovenian’s 300 metre spell a handful of metres behind the race director’s car, the gap once again crept up, with the impressively strong Healy ultimately finishing 38 seconds back.
While most onlookers were convinced that the relentless Pogačar would have won either way – either solo or in a two-up sprint with the Irishman – the drafting incident has nevertheless sparked something of a social media controversy, with pundits noting the effect race vehicles and motorbikes had on the finale of both the men’s and women’s Amstel Gold Races today, with Demi Vollering another apparent beneficiary of an inadvertent draft during her race-winning attack at the top of the Cauberg.
In both the Men's & Women's Amstel Gold Race, the winners were helped by motorbike and car draft.
While I believe they would've won either way, this should not be happening. #AGR23
— Benji Naesen (@BenjiNaesen) April 16, 2023
Tell me you're a race director who would rather have Pogacar as your winner than Healy without telling me you're a race director who would rather have Pogacar as your winner than Healy 🤡🤡🤡#AGR2023 #AGRmen pic.twitter.com/HmX5mOOQo1
— Jens Dekker (@jens_dekker) April 16, 2023
Jonathan Vaughters, Healy’s team manager at EF Education-EasyPost, was one of those to voice his frustration on social media, posting a video of the incident with the caption, “I mean. COME ON.”
I mean. COME ON. pic.twitter.com/hJVQ54ULOI
— Jonathan Vaughters (@Vaughters) April 16, 2023
Rather surprisingly, the American was backed up by two former UCI presidents, with whom he hasn’t always seen eye to eye.
“I have to agree with you Jonathan,” former UCI head Pat McQuaid replied on Twitter. “He gave Pog ten seconds at a critical moment.”
Meanwhile, McQuaid’s successor Brian Cookson concurred, posting: “Full house. I agree with Pat! Inexplicable and unacceptable.”
Elaborating on his stance later this evening, Vaughters wrote: “The issue is, we see vehicles changing the race results all the time. Sometimes in our favour, sometimes not. It just gets tiresome.
“Pog prob would have won in sprint; NOT the point. It just denigrates the racing.”
Pog drains his beer… after staring at a pint on top of the race director’s car during the race (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)
Pogačar himself has sought to downplay the effect of his brief spell behind the race director’s car, though the 24-year-old did acknowledge that the vehicle “was too close” for a moment.
“I don't like it,” he told WielerFlits after the race. “But this happens all the time when they are in the head of the race. They pass, they sink back again.
“That’s how it always goes in the race. I can’t do much about it. I can only cycle as fast as possible.
“The car was too close, but I don’t think the moment lasted too long.”
Amstel’s race director Leo van Vliet was rather more abrupt in his appraisal of the situation and the subsequent furore.
“I’ve heard [the criticism],” he told podcast In Het Wiel. “But yes, if you take a picture when we pass… We drove behind Pogačar, and the moment the differences become smaller, you have to pass.
“And I know the course, it only gets narrower. Then we drove past him, but then you still have to be careful because the road was not that wide there. If someone takes a picture at that moment and says: here is the car driving in front of him. What should I do with it? We’re better looking at what a nice race we got.”
When asked if Pogačar had benefited from the draft, Van Vliet said: “I raced myself and I can’t imagine that. And what good is it for me to do so? Oh well, let them talk, I can’t do anything about it.”
In any case, this year’s Amstel Gold Race certainly put the car in Pogačar, as well as supplying an endless source of memes…
Amstel is also available on draft. pic.twitter.com/tKaxUQM78U
— Bram Wulteputte (@CyclingBram) April 16, 2023
When there is a race going on but you have to advertise your beer. pic.twitter.com/f0kI8tcVUh
— Cycling out of context (@OutOfCycling) April 16, 2023
Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.