6. Philippe Gilbert: A world title in 1,500 meters
One attack can save a season. Just ask Philippe Gilbert, who in 2012 was languishing through his worst season since his rookie year back in 2003. Following his 2011 campaign, when he was all but unbeatable, Gilbert couldn’t buy a win going into the Vuelta a España.
Some grumbled that the Belgian had gone soft with his millionaire contact with BMC Racing. In the early part of the season, he was a shadow of his former winning image. Third at Flèche Wallonne paled in comparison to his Ardennes sweep of a year before. It was compatriot Tom Boonen who was making the headlines.
Gilbert had his eyes on bigger prizes later in the season, but those slipped through his hands as well. He fell short of the yellow jersey on home roads in July and then saw gold elude him despite initiating the action over Box Hill in the Olympic road race.
Two stage wins at the Vuelta a España bolstered his odds going into Valkenburg. Ever confident, Gilbert publicly says he never waivered in his belief that big things were sure to come.
And they finally did on a hilly course in the Limburg tailor-made for his attacking style. Belgium brought a super team for the men’s road race, putting riders into the breaks, saving Boonen for the final sprint and letting Gilbert have his chance on the Cauberg.
And he took it, with dazzling effect. With the finish line 1,200 meters past the Cauberg finish line used for the Amstel Gold Race, Gilbert timed it just right. He smashed the accelerator, following an early probe by Alexander Kolobnev. Alejandro Valverde and Edvald Boasson Hagen left it too late. Gilbert was gone.
One perfectly timed attack not only saved his season, it gave him cycling’s most treasured jersey. Gilbert promises to be back to his old self in 2013. With the rainbow jersey on his back, Gilbert’s trademarks attacks should come.