Alone in the picture, Gilbert solos to another win

Gilbert winning fleche wallonneThis is a reprint of an article I wrote for US Pro Cycling News.

Philippe Gilbert has done it again. For his third race in seven days, he’s crushed the competition to take a solo win, crossing the finish line alone in the picture. I imagine this race win was even more special for him, as a Wallonian winning in front of a home crowd, in a race traversing his home region. He is the first Walloon since 1989 to win this race.

Despite a flurry of breakaway attempts through the closing kilometers, no one was able to escape the group for long and it ended a bunch sprint up the Mur de Huy, with Gilbert leaving everyone in the dust.

The race started off slow, with four riders- Maciej Paterski (Liquigas-Cannondale), Maxime Vantomme (Katusha), Matti Helminen (Landbouwkrediet) and Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator)- breaking away right away and, with the peloton in no hurry to chase, were allowed a 17 minute lead at one point. Their lead only started to drop after 70km, as they started up the Mur de Huy for the first time. This was when Leopard Trek and Saxo Bank-Sungard took control of the peloton to bring the gap down, working for their respective leaders, the Schleck brothers and Alberto Contador.

At 90km in, Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervelo) and Nicholas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) crashed, forcing them to abandon the race.

An attack lead by two BMC racers, Martin Kohler and Jeff Louder, who were joined by Simon Geschke (Skil-Shimano) and Sébastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet) was shut down as they crested the Côte de Haut-Bois climb.

By the time there were just 54km to go, the peloton had started to chase in earnest, shaving minutes off the break’s lead. The peloton was starting to string out, with riders coming out of the back. By the second climb of the Mur, the leader’s gap was just 2:30. When the peloton crested the Mur, Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) made his move, taking Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) with him. Thomas Löfkvist (Team Sky), Alexander Kolobnev (Katusha), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Vasil Kiryienka (Movistar), and Michal Golas (Vacansoleil-DCM) joined them, and caught the leaders up front with 20km to go. However, once they did make contact, they were only 20 seconds ahead, with OmegaPharma-Lotto riding hard on the front.

Soon after the lead group was caught by the chase group, Löfkvist and Kiryienka attacked from the front group and were the only ones off the front when the rest of the lead group was caught by the peloton a few kilometers later. But, despite their most valiant efforts, they were taken back with less than 8km to go.

Once the group was together again, attacks started anew. Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step) and Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) struck out and were able to get a gap of 18 seconds with 5km to go. Even though Leopard Trek, OmegaPharma-Loto and Rabobank working hard behind them, the two still managed to keep a 20 seconds with 3km to go. The peloton worked hard to bring them back, but Pineau’s teammates at the front of the peloton kept them from working faster. The duo still had 13 seconds at the red flag, but the final climb up the Mur was starting and the favorites were amassing behind them. The peloton swept them up…

…And Gilbert Attacks

With 400m to go, Gilbert made his move. Despite the best efforts of all the favorites behind him, no one was able to match the Belgian, and he opened a huge gap, rolling up to the finish line by himself, taking in the cheers of his hometown crowd. These past two weeks he’s shown incredible form and one can only speculate what this means for this Sunday’s race.