BRABANCONNE, Belgium (AFP) — Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), gave his up-and-coming compatriot Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) a lesson in uphill sprinting on his way to victory in the Brabantse Pijl semi-classic on Wednesday.
Frenchman Anthony Geslin (Française des Jeux) took third place after dominating a three-man group which came in around a minute adrift.
Gilbert’s victory in the Fleche — also known as to Fleche-Brabanconne French-speaking Belgians — comes three days before he saddles up to defend his title at the Amstel Gold Race in Holland.
Gilbert followed an attack by Leukemans when he pulled away from a seven-man group on the 30th and penultimate climb around 14km from the finish.
The pair built a comfortable lead of around 50 seconds and collaborated until the closing kilometers, when discussions between the pair ensued.
When asked what they had been talking about, Gilbert later explained: “We agreed to work together until the finish and to sprint each other for the win. Then, it was a case of ‘let the best man win.’”
Leukemans, however, neglected to account for Gilbert’s strength on uphill finishes. When he put in a burst of speed inside the final kilometer it was all too brief, and had little effect. Gilbert pulled level, dropped down a gear and passed his fellow Belgian with ease before the finish.
“Bjorn deserved to win just as much as me. He was impressive, but he’s not as fast as me in a sprint.”
Gilbert’s victory comes three days before he saddles up to defend his title at the Amstel Gold Race, held over 260.4km with climbs that exact a far
bigger toll on the peloton.
Now based in Monaco, Gilbert did not race Paris-Roubaix last weekend, preferring train in the south of France to hone his form for Sunday’s Amstel, the first of the three “Ardennes Classics.”
Following Amstel, the peloton will tackle the hilly Fleche Wallonne next Wednesday before lining up for the final spring classic at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 24.
Defending race champion Sebastien Rosseler of RadioShack pulled out prior to the start Wednesday due to stomach problems.