Belgian leader unbeatable in Toledo
In a similar style as last year in Agnani at the end of the penultimate stage of the Giro d'Italia, Philippe Gilbert stormed to victory in Toledo at the Vuelta a España and enjoyed a quick meeting with 82-year-old local living cycling legend Federico Bahamontes. The winner of the 1959 Tour de France, known as "the eagle of Toledo" was full of praise for the Belgian's explosive finale.
"This was an extraordinary stage finish with a big crowd and a great winner," Bahamontes told Cyclingnews on the finishing line. "Obviously, the strongest rider won today. I don't personally know Philippe Gilbert but he knew the finish in our town of Toledo because he's been here last year. In the steepest part of the climb, he gained six or seven metres and that's why his win looked easy. I don't know him but I'm a fan of him."
Anybody would be a fan of Gilbert when he does such a perfect job. "I chose to not attack on the climb but stay in the bunch under control until the final ascent," the Omega Pharma-Lotto rider said. "Luis Leon Sanchez was the most dangerous guy there but there was a headwind and when I saw [David] Millar doing the hard work of the chase, I was quite happy because I know his skills when it comes to driving the bunch.
"I decided to open the sprint from far out. I thought it was the best way to beat Tyler Farrar. It's an honour of course to beat the second fastest sprinter in the world (after Mark Cavendish who was a little behind today, ed.) but above all it was a stage finish that suited me to perfection. For me to beat Farrar is less of a surprise uphill than if it had happened on a dead-flat road."
After winning two stages and wearing the red jersey for five days, the 28-year-old Belgian is more than ever a favourite for the world championship, a race he finished in sixth position last year. While many cyclists are used to hiding before the big events, Gilbert gave one more warning to his potential rivals in Geelong, including Italy's captain Filippo Pozzato who challenged him but had to realize that he couldn't aim at a better result than third in Toledo.
"I chose my goals at the beginning of the year and everyone has understood that after the Spring classics, I'm only focusing on the world championship," Gilbert said. "There's no surprise. I'm timing it right. I'm in perfect shape and I hope for the best outcome in Australia."
Gilbert has won the last two editions of Paris-Tours but the French autumnal classic will be held only one week after the world championship and it seems hardly compatible to aim for winning both. "I'm not sure what I'll be doing one week after the Worlds road race and if I'll be able to recover in time," he said. "For now, I'm totally focused on the rainbow jersey, that's what I want. If I don't get it, I'll try to get my revenge at Paris-Tours and the Tour of Lombardy like last year but this is not what I'm aiming for at the moment.
"I came to the Vuelta with the goal of winning a stage and I've won two, so I'm more than satisfied, especially with the great condition I'm feeling in now," Gilbert said. "I have no regrets missing out on the green jersey because that was not my priority. I've thought about it, I've envisaged winning the points classification at some stage but I've preferred not to take any unnecessary risk.
"I'm not going to win a bunch sprint on the flat but there's a big risk of ruining all the good work with a crash. Had I won the green jersey at the Vuelta, it wouldn't have changed much my conclusions of this three-week race. It's totally positive."
The course of the world championship from Melbourne to Geelong is said to perfectly suit Gilbert and he'll have a dedicated and strong Belgian team at his service on October 3rd.