Phillipe Gilbert promised his Francaise des Jeux team that he would give them a big victory before moving on to Silence-Lotto in 2009 - and the Belgian Classics specialist kept his word by winning Paris-Tours.
With the bunch snapping at their heels on the never-ending Avenue de Grammont in central Tours, former Het Volk winner outsprinted four other riders from a late breakaway to take the biggest victory of his career.
?it was very close, but I was lucky enough to have a team-mate, Mickael Delage, in the break,? Gilbert said afterwards.
?He buried himself in the move for me, and that allowed me to keep back a little bit of energy for the final sprint.
?Back in May I?d promised [Francaise des Jeux sports director] Marc Madiot a big win before leaving the squad, and here it is. We?ve spent six years together, and this is a good way of saying goodbye.?
Belgium scooped the top two places at Paris-Tours, with Jan Kuyckx (Landbouwkrediet) taking second. Third in the sprint was Sebastien Turgot (Bouygues).
After a break of five containing American Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Chipotle) was reeled in, the winning move of Delage, French national champion Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel), Kuyckx and Turgot went clear on the succession of tiny climbs just before the finish in central Tours.
Gilbert then gave the move vital extra firepower when he bridged across shortly afterwards - which in turn allowed his team-mate Delage to work all out to keep the move clear.
Gilbert's victory was poetic justice for a rider who has twice gone clear in the final kilometres of Paris-Tours - in 2005 and 2007 - only to be caught within sight of the finish.
Three times Paris-Tours winner Erik Zabel (Milram), riding his last ever road race, finished seventh in the main bunch. Britain's Roger Hammond (Columbia) came in 84th at 1-43.
PARIS-TOURS 2008: RESULTS
1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) FDJeux 252km in 5h 47min 43secs
2. Jan Kuyckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet
3. Sebastien Turgot (Fra) Bouygues Telecom
4. Nicolas Vogondy (Fra) Agritubel at same time
5. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Chipotle at 4secs
6. Robbie McEwen (Aus) Silence-Lotto
7. Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
8. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas
9. Kristof Goddaert (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen
10. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step at same time.
84. Roger Hammond (GB) Columbia at 1min 43secs
Peloton rolls out form the start
Alessandro Ballan, world champion
David Zabriskie leads the escape
Peloton chases the break
Philippe Gilbert wins Paris-Tours
Photos by Graham Watson
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