The Belgian champion rode clear of a 21-man group that contained two team-mates Tom Boonen and Matteo Trentin. He pulled off the most successful solo attack in sometime, making many recall Eddy Merckx’s 73km ride in 1969.
“We decided first with Trentin and Boonen to speed up on the Kwaremont, and Tom just went full-gas on the asphalt before the cobbles,” Gilbert said.
“He did a big pull and the first part of the climb, then I took over. I was shifting to the big chainring when it was flatter, then after the little chainring there was this village.
“I looked back and I saw that I had a little gap, but I didn’t know what to do, so I stayed at my speed. At the end of the cobbles, I looked back and I saw them already pretty far back, so I was always asking what to do, and the team said, ‘Just go.’ So I went, but it was a long way.”
When Jacky Durand won in 1992, he won from the day’s breakaway that rode 200km. He soloed from that group on the final climb.
Gilbert did so with the main attacking group, which broke free with 95km to race under Boonen’s pressure on the Muur.
“I was trying to go fast, but not too crazy because I knew it was a long effort to deal with,” added Gilbert.
“I was trying to do my best because I knew the last 10 to 15km would be really hard. I was scared of having a hunger flat because I knew from this moment I didn’t really have time to eat much.
“I had some gels from the car that I had also myself, but that’s the only thing I could eat. And drinks, but there’s not much energy in drinks – it’s not easy to deal with this effort.”
Gilbert’s effort came thanks to such a strong team that included Boonen, Trentin, Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar. Behind, Boonen and Trentin, then Terpstra later, were able to work against the chase’s effort.
“For sure a win of the whole team, I’m aware of that because I heard from the radio that everyone was working behind me and I’m really thankful to them because they did really big work,” Gilbert explained.
“I know that without them I would’ve never won today, so I’m really thankful to them. I think everyone deserves to be on the podium today, because we won as a team today – that’s something special.”