Another sharp hilltop finish and another victory for Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) on stage three of the Tour of Belgium. As at Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Gilbert simply had too much for his breakaway companions on the haul to the line.
“It seems that they’re becoming my speciality, these races with short, steep hills,” Gilbert joked to La Dernière Heure after Saturday’s stage, which he explained had been his sole objective for the Tour of Belgium.
“I already held the black jersey since yesterday, but in fact I had only marked today’s stage in red in my road book,” he said. “The leader’s jersey wasn’t an objective in itself, but now that I have it, I’m not going to complain.”
Gilbert moved into the overall lead on Friday and reinforced his advantage by overpowering Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Bert De Waele (Landbouwkrediet) on the Mur de Frankendelle in Eupen. Gilbert had already been the instigator of that winning move 30km from the finish.
“I started to accelerate when we reached some tailwind sections, that’s how our lead group formed,” he explained. Although riding close to home roads in Wallonia and on terrain well-suited to his characteristics, Gilbert explained that he was not familiar with the finale in Eupen.
“The local circuit at the end was a surprise to me,” he noted. “I don’t come to train here very often. I gave everything in the last kilometre and nobody came back up to me.”
Although speculation is rife over Gilbert’s destination for 2012, the Belgian paid tribute to the work of his Omega Pharma-Lotto squad as he faces into the final stage.
“I’ve won a lot this season, and I also owe that to the solidity of my team,” he said. “That was clear again today. I was able to economise my efforts early in the stage, leaving control of the race to my teammates.”