Belgian Philippe Gilbert lived up to his billing as one of cycling's classiest riders with his win at Amstel Gold today in The Netherlands. The victory comes after a hard fought battle in the cobbled classics and his magical autumn with wins in Paris-Tours and the Tour of Lombardy.
The 27-year-old Walloon is dreaming of next Sunday, though. His home race, Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"Liège is my dream," said Gilbert. "And now I will be even more confident."
Gilbert played a perfect game today, relying on his Omega Pharma-Lotto team-mates and playing cool even when opportunities presented themselves. His winning move did not come until within the final kilometre, on the final climb of 31, the Cauberg.
After Russian Alexandr Kolobnev's solo attack faded, Gilbert struck.
"Saxo Bank had decided from early on to control the race for Fränk and Andy [Schleck]. They wanted to win, it was clear. They were strong and so was Serguei Ivanov [Katusha].
"I did not base my race on their race, though, and it was better that way. It was better to wait.
"Andy had me worried with his attack on the Eyserbosweg [-21km], but I followed him. It was my time on the Keutenberg [11km to go]."
Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini), Andy Schleck and Ivanov joined Gilbert while Kolobnev, solo, built up a lead.
"It was hard to wait or to go on with our move," Gilbert continued. "I talked with Marc Sergeant and we decided to wait, it was a good decision to do so. I waited and recovered for the sprint up the Cauberg."
Gilbert's attack on the fan-lined climb to Cauberg was decisive. He left behind a big group to fight only for second spot. Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) and Italian Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) rose above the others to take the two remaining podium spots.
"Philippe is the best rider in the world and to finish second to him is not small feat," Hesjedal told Cycling Weekly.
"My mind is on Liège, where I showed well last year. I do not know how I will beat him there, but it is a different ball game than Amstel Gold.
"I am progressing and why can't I win Liège? I am suited more to the finish on Ans than the Cauberg."
Gilbert is a proven winner. In addition to Paris-Tours twice and Lombardy, he won the Het Volk, a stage in the Giro d'Italia and the Giro del Piemonte.
"When you win races like Lombardy and Paris-Tours then you have more confidence and motivation for the next races. A rider gets stronger with every victory and he knows himself better," added Gilbert.
"Flèche Wallonne [Wednesday] is not a race for me, at least not the finish up Huy. But, with the new route, and the penultimate Huy coming closer to the end, I can do better. If I am in the first group over the penultimate Huy then I can maybe have a chance."
Just over two minutes behind Gilbert, Ireland's Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) closed the day for 33rd place. It was his first race after a two-week break and finishing fifth overall in the Tour of Catalonia.
Team Sky's best finisher was the Norwegian Lars-Petter Nordhaug, who was 45th, in a group 3-19 down on the winner. Chris Froome finished 76th, and Russell Downing did not finish the race.
AMSTEL GOLD RACE RESULTS
1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 258km in 6-22-54
2. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Transitions at 2sec
3. Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana same time
4. Bert De Waele (Bel) Landbouwkrediet at 5sec
5. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas
6. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre both same time
7. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 7sec
8. Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil at 9sec
9. Karsten Kroon (Ned) BMC Racing at 11sec
10. Chris Horner (USA) Radioshack same time
45. Lars-Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Team Sky at 3-19
52. Kjell Carlstrom (Fin) Team Sky at 3-28
64. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Team Sky at 3-38
76. Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky at 10-20
83. Mat Hayman (Aus) Team Sky at 10-31
DNF Russell Downing (GB) Team Sky
Amstel Gold Race 2010 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Amstel Gold Race 2010: The Big Preview
Spring Classics 2010: CW's Coverage Index
Philippe Gilbert: Rider Profile
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