Standing in the middle, Dutch winner Michael Boogerd wears a relieved smile. To his right, third-place Gabriele Missaglia also looks pleased. But on the left stands a downcast, bitter Lance Armstrong.
The picture, which caught Armstrong with his tongue out, clearly portrays a man who felt robbed of a victory, as it well should.
Moments before, after doing all the work to lead their two-man break over the final 20 kilometers, Armstrong was beaten in lunging sprint by the slimmest of margins one tire width.
Racing in his home country with tremendous pressure to win, Boogerd won the race in the least fashionable way possible, by forcing Armstrong to do all the work before just barely coming around him at the line.
Even though his tactics were sound he had Rabobank teammate and sprinter Marcus Zberg chasing close behind Boogerd expressed reticence about his win, saying, "It isn't my favorite style to ride in the wheel of Lance for (the final) 20 kilometers.
Armstrongs comments matched his resigned expression.
One thing is clear, Armstrong said, and that is that Rabobank was just too strong and they had the numbers which said I had no choice but to pull him to the line. Even then I thought I had a good chance to win the sprint. I either should have tried to get behind him for the sprint or started the sprint a bit later. Hindsight is 20/20 ...
Little did anyone know that Amstel Gold was only a foreshadowing of what was to come later that summer in France.
The Netherlands Amstel Gold on April 22, the fifth round of the World Cup and last of the spring classics, is a good barometer for the three-week tour riders who are nearing their first significant training peak.
After the race, the major tour contenders will rest and then ramp up to their big peak for the start of the Giro d Italia and Tour de France.
Armstrongs preparation went perfectly last year, and he will be looking for a similar result this year. He raced well at the Tour of Aragon in Spain as a warm-up for Amstel Gold. With all the publicity and pressure, a Tour de France winner can have a tough time training effectively. But Armstrongs form is right where it should be, according Mark Gorski, U.S. Postal Service general manager: "He's going well and is ahead of where he was last year."
Bjarne Riis, winner of the Tour in 1996, followed a similar plan in 1997 and won the Amstel Gold race handily, almost easily, in a solo break. Look for big Tour guns Alex Zuelle, Bobby Julich (who figured prominently in two breaks at last weeks Liege-Bastogne-Liege) and Abraham Olano to stretch their legs at this race.
Boogerd caused a minor flap when he opted out of Milan San-Remo earlier this year; he said wasnt interested in entering every big race just for the sake of tradition and would only enter races he wanted to win. Amstel Gold is definitely one of his target events, no doubt he would like to repeat his win, but with Armstrongs style.
Make no mistake, 255-kilometer Amstel Gold, with its 27 sharp climbs, is prime racing for one-day race specialists, especially the Liege-Bastogne-Liege contenders, who will be looking for World Cup points.
Last year people wondered if Armstrong was for real. This year theyll all be wondering if he can win the Tour again. Lest anyone forget, Armstrong started out as a very good one-day racer, and is still the only American to win a World Cup classic (San Sebastian, 1996).