It’s taken Philippe Gilbert several years to get the hang of Paris-Tours, but for the last two seasons there’s been no stopping the Belgian in France’s top Autumn Classic.
Already the winner of the Coppa Sabatini in Italy on Thursday, three days later Gilbert snapped up a far bigger prize when he roared across the finish lline at Tours ahead of fellow-breakaway Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Vancansoleil’s Borut Bozic.
It was Gilbert’s second victory in a row in Paris-Tours, almost a carbon copy of his win from a small group sprint in 2008, and one which culminated the hard work by Silence-Lotto throughout the 230 kilometre race on Sunday.
Together with Garmin-Slipstream and Quick Step, Gilbert’s team had kept control of the early break of 10 riders and brought them back with 10 kilometres to go.
Then on the Cote de L’Epan close to the finish, Greg Van Avermaert (Silence-Lotto) sheered off the front, with Gilbert taking over and Boonen and Bozic also making it across.
The trio avoided the race’s second massive pile-up, which completely blocked in all bar 15 riders with six kilometres left. Gilbert and co. blasted on ahead, the bulk of the main bunch were stranded behind.
“The road is really narrow at that point, just a single track and there was no way through,” Britain’s Roger Hammond (Cervélo), who had already crashed and injured his left wrist in a previous big pile-up, told Cycling Weekly.
“Like [team-mate] Dan Lloyd said, it was a real anti-climax.”
The three had 15 seconds on the closest group of about 10 chasers with 2.3 kilometres to go on the neverending straightaway of the Avenue de Grammont, just enough – but only just – to be sure of a chance of victory.
Gilbert then led out the sprint with 400 metres to go – such a long way out it seemed certain to fail. But despite Boonen trying to regain ground, the 27-year-old Gilbert managed to stay ahead of his Belgian rival to claim his second win in four days.
The Belgian’s success continues a run of great results for Silence-Lotto this autumn, which started with Cadel Evans third place overall in the Tour of Spain.
“I’m not scared of anybody in a sprint when it’s a tough race like this one,” Gilbert said afterwards.
“If I was going to get the win, I had to do a really long sprint. With 100 metres to go, I knew I had won it for sure.”
Great Britain’s top finisher was Hammond (Cervélo), who took 35th as part of the main bunch. Lloyd was 43rd, whilst their team-mate Jeremy Hunt abandoned after working hard for Hammond in the first two-thirds of the race.
Paris-Tours 2009: 230km
1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Silence-Lotto in 5-12-23
2. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step at same time
3. Borut Bozic (Slo) Vacansoleil at 2sec
4. Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Katusha at 16sec
5. Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
6. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre
7. Gerben Lowik (Ned) Vacansoleil
8. Pablo Lastras (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
9. Martin Reimer (Ger) Cervelo
10. Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) Francaise des Jeux all same time
35. Roger Hammond (GB) Cervelo at 1-00
43. Daniel Lloyd (GB) Cervelo at same time.
Paris-Tours 2009 photo gallery by Graham Watson