Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) won the Brabantse Pijl today in Overijse, Belgium, proving himself among the top favourites for the Ardennes Classics which start with Amstel Gold on Sunday.
"I felt great today," the Belgian said. "I knew I had to respond to the escape after my team-mates had done all they could for me."
Gilbert chased and joined an escape group of six in Belgium's mid-week Classic.
With 14 kilometres to go, on the penultimate lap of the race's 12.7-kilometre finishing circuit, he followed Vacansoleil-DCM rider Björn Leukemans' attack. With five kilometres remaining, they held 45 seconds on the remaining escapees and over two minutes on the main pack, which included three-time winner Oscar Freire (Rabobank).
Gilbert marked Leukemans heading into the final kilometre, always staying a half wheel back on his rival's left side. He moved up alongside at 400 metres to go, following Leukemans' acceleration at 300 metres and zipped past with 100 metres left. He checked over his shoulder and then celebrated his first win since a stage win in the Tirreno-Adriatico last month in Castelraimondo, Italy.
Leukemans "deserves a victory," said Gilbert, "but you don't give any gifts in this race."
Gilbert will look to take his next prize in one of the three Ardennes Classics: Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He won Amstel Gold last year, but dreams of winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège a week on Sunday.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège passes his hometown, Remouchamps, when it climbs the Côte de la Redoute. He finished the race third last year behind winner Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana).
1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) OmegaPharma-Lotto
2 Björn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM
3 Anthony Geslin (Fra) FDJ
4 Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM
5 Bram Tankink (Ned) Rabobank
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