It didn’t come about by accident, but it wasn’t entirely by design either. Ben Healy was the revelation of 2023, and the beauty of his breakthrough is that it was as much an adventure as a project. Some of it was planned, but much was ad-libbed.
It was already clear that Healy was a good rider. Only good riders, after all, tend to win stages at Tour de l’Avenir straight out of the junior ranks, as Healy did in 2019. But nobody, perhaps not even Healy himself, seemed to understand just how good he was until a grisly Sunday afternoon in Limburg last April.
Healy had been planning to skip the Classics altogether as he readied himself for his Grand Tour debut at the Giro d’Italia. As the Spring drew on, however, his form simply couldn’t be ignored. At the very least, EF Education-EasyPost realised it would be foolhardy to squander it, and so Healy was dispatched to the Ardennes Classics, almost to see what might happen.
The hasty rewriting of Healy’s schedule was justified from the moment he made the winning move at Amstel Gold Race, but his performance over the rugged 90km that followed would essentially change the course of his career. Even when Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) pressed clear on the Keutenberg, Healy refused to yield, first chasing in the company of Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) and then pressing on alone in the finale to take second place.
By then, Healy was cutting his deficit to Pogačar with every pedal stroke, and he would have gone even closer if the race director’s car hadn’t offered its slipstream to the Slovenian for several beats longer than was necessary in the finale. Healy, whose default setting appears to be one of beatific calm, refused to cry foul on the day, nor has he dwelt on the incident since.
“Even if I’d caught Pogačar, I don’t think I’d have dropped him or beaten him in the sprint,” Healy tells Cyclingnews. “I can’t be too angry at the car situation.”
Healy would follow up by placing fourth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and claiming a spectacular solo victory at Fossombrone on the Giro d’Italia. But it was Amstel Gold Race that had shown him what was possible, when he looked around in the winning break and began to realise he had the measure of everyone bar Pogačar. “Even when they first went, I felt good,” Healy says. “And then dropping Pidcock was another thing that spurred me on, because I felt I was doing it on the biggest stage as well.”