In one of the race’s numerous pileups, the BMC rider found himself in trouble through no fault of his own after another rider made an abrupt manoeuvre in front of him. With nowhere to go, Gilbert fell spinning to the ground.
Suffering multiple scrapes and bruises, particularly on his right side, Gilbert got up and gingerly attempted to continue, but within a few minutes the news flashed up on the television screen that the 2011 Flèche Wallonne winner, with the main peloton long gone, had opted to abandon. Other fallers who went down in the same crash, like Chris Jones (United Healthcare), also had to quit.
Tenth in Amstel Gold Race after his searing late attack on the Cauberg failed to see him go clear for victory like in 2014, Gilbert had already started Flèche Wallonne with much less pressure given, as BMC insisted before the race, he was not the outright leader of the squad there. Now, however, Gilbert will start Liège-Bastogne-Liège this Sunday with the sense that the success or failure of his entire Ardennes week this spring will hinge on just one race result.
“I’ve got a lot of scrapes and the back of one of my knees hurts a lot because my shoe got jammed in the pedal when I went down,” Gilbert told Belgian television after the race. “But there wasn’t much I could do about that. Now I’ve got to go see an osteopath to try and recover as best I can.”
Gilbert will continue to battle on in the Belgian Classics despite the two most recent setbacks. “There are five days to go until Sunday [and Liège-Bastogne-Liège], and it’s not the best preparation, but there are worse ones, too,” he said with a certain touch of dry humour.
Gilbert was far from the only top name to head out of the race early this year, with other big contenders like Dan Martin (Garmin-Cannondale) and Jelle Vandendert (Lotto-Soudal) among the 66 riders who abandoned. This year’s edition of Flèche Wallonne, he said, he been “very nervous, and there were crashes all over the place. I wasn’t lucky, but when something like that happens, there’s nothing you can do.”