Philippe Gilbert won De Brabantse Pijl, the final tuneup ahead of the Ardennes classics, Wednesday in Overijse, Belgium. Gilbert (BMC Racing) won the 203-kilometer semi-classic for the second time in his career, landing a confidence-inspiring victory ahead of the hilly one-day races serving as his top objectives in 2014.
Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) was second, missing out by half-a-wheel in the sprint, and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) was third in the 26-climb midweek contest, which started east of Brussels in Leuven.
“Matthews was the fastest, but I played it well because he had to close the gap to (Björn) Leukemans and (Wouter) Poels in the descent and that cost him power,” Gilbert said in a team press release. “I also saw he was closed in in the last corner, but I waited, because I knew from the last times (up the climb), I didn’t want to make the same mistake. It was perfect.”
Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) was the last of the survivors from the day’s breakaway when a half-dozen riders ripped past the American with little more than 40km remaining.
Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp), Pieter Serry (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Mathias Brändle (IAM Cycling), Björn Leukemans (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Mauro Finetto (Yellow Fluo), and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) pushed ahead to nearly a minute’s advantage, but couldn’t cut the leash from the peloton.
Forty seconds behind the leaders with 30km to go, BMC Racing and Giant-Shimano threw all they had at the chase. The former glued the front of the race back together and with 8km to go, the bunch reset for an explosive finale.
At the back, Gallopin, who later said he was satisfied with his result, given the circumstances, was forced to chase after a flat 25km from the line.
“I had a puncture at 25 kilometers from the finish. On the same place of the course as last year,” he said. “Honestly, I thought my race was over. Because of the succession of hills the race never stopped. I had to return from behind the team cars, but eventually I could pass one group after another and that way I could take my place back in front. Thanks to the teammates, I joined the first group just before the last climb, not a moment too early.”
An onslaught of attacks ripped at the peloton over the handful of kilometers leading to the final climb at Schavei, but no rider could shake loose.
American Alex Howes led into the 700-meter final ramp for Garmin. Serry took over with 700 meters remaining, but Gilbert led out the sprint onto the 200-meter finish straight and held onto victory over Matthews.
“It was a difficult race with everyone attacking when we got to the [finish circuit] laps. I had to bide my time for the sprint,” said Matthews. “I had a good sprint in the finish, but Gilbert was quicker today.”