By Brecht Decaluwé in Gent
With a blistering attack on the Eikenberg, Belgian star Philippe Gilbert hammered away from a group including big guns Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, Thor Hushovd and Leif Hoste, on what seemed an impossible mission: the Française des Jeux rider had 50 kilometres to bridge up to the breakaway, beat them and claim victory on a windy, hilly and cobbled course. Eventually, though, the French speaking Belgian succeeded and claimed his second career win in the Omloop Het Volk, also known as the mini Tour of Flanders.
With a storm raging through Flanders the night before, the riders were heading for a tough race. Combine this with the new course, re-designed in part by triple Het Volk winner Peter Van Petegem, and it was clear the race would be a lot harder than in the past.
"It was a weird race," said Gilbert. "The start was very nervous, but pretty soon I figured I was stronger than the others."
The attack from Gilbert came just after some impressive work from the Quick Step team that reduced the amount of riders in the front rows of the peloton. "Just before we reached the Eikenberg there was a crash in the peloton and we were approaching the climb with only a small group of riders," he recalled.
"I felt really good and as I looked around the only thing I saw was fatigue. I told [Mickael] Delage to pull hard until we reached the foot of the Eikenberg and from there on I took over and gave all I had until I reached the top."
At first, Cofidis' Nick Nuyens was able to hold Gilbert's wheel, but as the Française des Jeux rider caught and passed early attackers Roy Sentjes and William Bonnet, Nuyens dropped back. At the top of the climb there was a huge gap behind but the eventual winner couldn't decide what to do next. "I looked back and realized it would take a while before someone would bridge up. Ten kilometres later I was still on my own and figured I had to hammer those pedals as hard as I could until I reached the finish."
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