MAASTRICHT, Netherlands (VN) – Just as he did on Wednesday at De Brabantse Pijl and last October at the Giro di Lombardia, Philippe Gilbert proved Sunday to be the most talented rider in the peloton when it comes to hilly, one-day races.
But despite Gilbert’s win at the Amstel Gold Race, for the second consecutive year, the Omega Pharma-Lotto one-day specialist said he would not call himself the best classics rider in the world.
“It’s true that I’m there everywhere in all types of one-day races,” said Gilbert. “But no, I don’t want to say that I am the best one or the second best one or the third best one. Maybe that is something we can say when I stop my career as a rider.”
Being “there” has included two wins at Lombardia and now two consecutive Amstel Gold victories, as well as four more podiums in the sport’s five monuments in the last three years. In March Gilbert won the Montepaschi Strade Bianche in Italy and earlier this month registered his worst Ronde van Vlaanderen placing, ninth, since 2008. The only monument at which he has yet to stand on the podium is Paris-Roubaix, which he doesn’t ride.
Three-time world champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) called Gilbert unbeatable Sunday.
“Against a rider like this, it’s not possible (to win) at this moment,” he said after finishing sixth, five seconds back. “Today I was okay. There was a chance to win, but we saw in the last kilometer that that was not possible.”
Much was made in the build-up to the Ardennes classics this week over the similarities between Gilbert and cobbled classics master Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek), who found himself marked out of a repeat of his 2010 Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double earlier this month.
The finale to the Cauberg played out just as the cobbled classics did. Gilbert, the favorite, was left to do the work of pulling in a late escapee in Schleck and could look to no one other than teammate Jelle Vanendert to help. This is not pavé, however, and Gilbert overcame the tactics with a pure show of strength when he reeled Schleck in over the final 3km and sprung free on the 750-meter finish climb.
“You can do that in a race like Flanders,” said Gilbert. “Here it is not possible because it’s completely different. It’s impossible to do an empty race and just go against somebody. With all of the climbs at the end, only the best riders are in front and you finish with maybe only seven or eight riders who can win the race.”
In the last 12 months, Gilbert has outfoxed most of the climbers to finish third from a late breakaway at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, outkicked a group of hard men at Montepaschi and made a late surge in a drag race to pull third, for the second time, at Milan-San Remo.
“Yes, I think I’m the most complete rider because I’m really an all-rounder,” said Gilbert. “I think my results prove that.”
While commentators in northern Europe debate Gilbert’s place among the one-day greats — and the Belgian media clamor for every ounce of news from their new national star — Gilbert said he would saddle up and take a crack at the spring’s two remaining classics, Wednesday’s La Flèche Wallone and next Sunday’s tilt in Liège.
“What I want to do is do my job really with patience and try to win and of course when a result follows, I am very happy,” he said.