SD Worx started the Amstel Gold Race with the strongest six-woman squad in the peloton on Sunday, with riders to handle every scenario that could be thrown at them during the course of the 128.5km race.
At the base of the Cauberg, the Dutch squad looked all set for their fifth win of the season and their first at their home race in four years. Both Demi Vollering and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio were in the front group of seven on the day's final climb, with the five other riders in group without teammates.
Overall favourite Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) had attacked to instigate the elite move, but on the way up the climb it was Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Nouvelle Acquitaine-Futuroscope) who made the decisive attack, soloing to victory in Berg en Terblijt.
After the finish Vollering, who sprinted to second place four seconds after Cavalli, said that she'd rather have finished where she did – second for the second year in a row – than miss the podium altogether.
"Last year I was really happy with second place and now it feels a bit like a pity," she said. "But it's better second than not on the podium of course.
"I think this was a really, really awesome win for Cavalli and also she really deserves it because it was a really strong attack, and she had the legs. She was the strongest today, so it's really good race for her."
Vollering, who finished second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the start of spring, said that she had hesitated to make a move when Cavalli jumped on the Cauberg, while none of her companions in the group followed either.
"I think there was a moment I hesitated to go myself behind Cavalli and then I was also like if I do that and they close to gap to me, then it's also done for sure," she said. "So yeah, it's – I don't know. I was happy with my legs, so, hopefully another time."
Attacks had flown on the final lap of the race, with Amanda Spratt (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Riejanne Markus (Jumbo-Visma) among those attempting to get away. SD Worx rider Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and Blanka Kata Vas were among those to chase down the danger before the finis, while the team's Swiss champion Marlen Reusser put in a counter of her own before the decisive move went off the front.
Earlier in the race, at just over 60km to go, an elite group including Van Vleuten, Vollering, Van den Broek and more had jumped away at the head of the race before being brought back. Vollering said later that there was little cooperation in such a strong group so far from the line.
"Actually, the group was too good," she said. "All the favourites were in the group so I think nobody wants to ride full gas so it came back and then on this course it's really technical, so you really need to pay attention.
"Then in the last lap we were almost missing it. So yeah, it was not so nice, but Chantal and Blanka did a really good job to close the gap to the first group. That was really good, but it was again a really hard race. It's always really hard race here."
Tactics amid the chaos
The multiple moves, breaks, and attacks that went during the race were indicative of the ever-changing nature of the day, with the early break caught at the mid-point and little cohesion at the front thereafter.
It was a hard environment in which to execute a team plan, something which Reusser agreed with when asked about SD Worx's plan afterwards.
"I don't know. Actually really I don't know if can tell. I'll ask my friend Chantal," she said before turning to Van den Broek-Blaak. "Can we tell what was our plan? Or don't you do this?
"It was clear that an early break would go because the course is so hard. So, we wanted to have Chantal or Blanka in this break. I think it was a bit special that today in the first really hard climb Kasia and Demi and Annemiek were already gone.
"So, it developed quite specially, I think, and we had to change a bit our tactics and it was a lot of only attacking and waiting the whole race. It was really hard."
On the Cauberg, too, the team's plan wasn't fully evident as they were caught out by Cavalli's move. Moolman Pasio, who put in the work for Vollering on the run to the line, said that SD Worx were the strongest team but came undone tactically in the final.
"I must say a little bit of frustration for sure because we were strongest team, I think," she said. "But towards the end maybe we lost a little bit control and Amstel Gold is always a strange race. It's hard but it's also tactical, you know, and so just in one moment things can go completely wrong, and I think, in the final we were sometimes missing the attacks.
"But in the end, we were in good position. I came into the Cauberg a little bit too far back which was not ideal. Maybe if I wasn't so far back, I could have really made more of a difference with an attack. I was happy to be there and just in the moment when I felt 'OK, let me give one or two seconds for my legs to recover', that's when Marta Cavalli attacked."
Given the mix-up and missing out on the victory Moolman Pasio said that she and the team were frustrated with the outcome, though not necessarily with each other.
"At the end of the day maybe just a bit of frustration from both sides," she said. "Not with each other more with ourselves. I'm sure Demi also hoped to be in a better position and in that moment, she had to save for the sprint. She is the best sprinter, so it was up to me."
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