Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) does the historic Ardennes Classic triple in Liège-Bastogne-Liège
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King of the Classics finishes ahead of Evans, Cavendish
When it came to the UCI WorldTour Ranking, it was Omega Pharma – Lotto's Philippe Gilbert who came out on top, 144 points ahead of BMC's Cadel Evans – and that's how you voted when it came to choosing the Male Road Rider of the Year in Cyclingnews' annual reader poll.
Evans ticked some big race boxes, including of course the Tour de France having stood as runner-up on the podium on two previous occasions, but it was Gilbert whose devastating form spanned almost the entire season.
In 2011, Gilbert posted 18 victories with the first coming in February on the first stage of the Volt ao Algarve, the last was the GP de Wallonie in mid-September. Speed merchants Marcel Kittel (17) and Peter Sagan (15) only managed to come close to the Belgian's phenomenal tally.
Looking for highlights – with so many outstanding occasions - in such a dominant season makes picking a standout difficult. Gilbert was the undisputed king of the Classics. First there was the Brabantse Pijl, then he went back-to-back at Amstel Gold Race, before closing out Liège-Bastogne-Liège with a cat-and-mouse thriller against the Schleck brothers from the Côte de Roche aux Faucons to the finish line.
On the run into the Tour de France, Gilbert was crowned Belgian road. The 29-year-old then earned his first yellow jersey by winning the first stage. Gilbert lost the maillot jaune the following stage but held onto the polka dot jersey for two days while beginning an arm wrestle with José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) for the sprinter's prize which was eventually resolved by Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) on Stage 11.
With Gilbert and Evans lining up under the BMC banner in 2012, the man with the most wins in the peloton says he won't be mounting a Tour challenge next season.
"I'll be very happy to start the Tour alongside Cadel, who will be wearing number one and setting off with the ambition of winning again," Gilbert said. "That's going to be a great experience.
"I did a Vuelta a España with Cadel in 2009, which he almost won. In the end, he was third. I helped him to the best of my ability and that's certainly what I want to do in 2012."
Before heading to the UCI Road World Championships in Copenhagen, where he was one of the pre-race favourites, the Gilbert streak continued with the Clasica San Sebastian, the GP Quebec and his national time trial championships.
The constant distraction of contract negotiations and the long season at the top finally took their toll on Gilbert at the Giro di Lombardia where he was chasing his third consecutive victory on a favoured and well-suited parcours. He finished eighth.
"The season I've had has been very hard, I've had a lot of extra pressures, so to finish in the top 10, it means that I've finished it well. I didn't win today, but I've won a lot this year and I can be proud and happy with my season."
When it comes to 2012, Gilbert says that his biggest target will be the world championships, with an eye to finishing better than this year's almost underachieving 17th place.
Even if he doesn't manage to come close to bettering this year's feat, Gilbert's presence in the peloton following an epic 2011 guarantees fireworks.
2011 best male road rider results:
1 Philippe Gilbert 11,536 (53.3%)
2 Cadel Evans 4,547 (21.0%)
3 Mark Cavendish 3,055 (14.1%)
4 Levi Leipheimer 797 (3.7%)
5 Thomas Voeckler 660 (3.1%)
6 Tony Martin 382 (1.8%)
7 Peter Sagan 308 (1.4%)
8 Bradley Wiggins 174 (0.8%)
9 Juan José Cobo 110 (0.5%)
10 Marcel Kittel 65 (0.3%)
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