If Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek) was the Superman of the pavé-classics then Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) is the Superman of the short uphill finish. On Sunday he blew the opposition away on the Cauberg at the Amstel Gold Race.
The 28-year-old Belgian is racking up the wins in these type of races with last year's Amstel Gold Race and his two victories in the Vuelta Ciclista a España (Malaga and Toledo) as the best examples of his capabilities. Ever since the suspension of Alejandro Valverde he's arguably the best rider in the world in the short uphill finish.
In this year's Amstel Gold Race Gilbert stormed away from the competition on the Cauberg, copying last year's move. Once again it allowed him to take all the time in the world to celebrate his victory. The runner-up, Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), didn't make it on the finish photo.
“This is the most important week of my season and since Wednesday I've had super sensations. The team was super strong too which helped me mentally to economise my energy. Only during the last three kilometres I had to work a bit to get back to Andy Schleck,” Gilbert said. “He went at the right moment but I still had Jelle Vanendert and I was confident he could keep him under control. When the gap was up to 16 seconds I got worried. I asked the Rabobank guys to work but they didn't. Anyway, as a top favourite it was my responsibility so I pulled too.”
Fast finisher Oscar Freire (Rabobank) was also present in the lead group that caught back Schleck while storming up the Cauberg. The Spaniard heralded the performance from ‘Phil’ as something he had never seen.
“It's great to hear that from a man who's a triple world champion and winner of many other big races. It's hard for me to say something about what I achieved as I can't judge my performance just yet. I'll have to sit down and watch the footage this evening to realize what I just did,” Gilbert said.
During the post-race press conference Gilbert was asked whether he felt like he was the most complete rider of the peloton. “Yes, I can get a result in Flanders, but also Milan-San Remo, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Lombardy. I'm not saying I'm the best, or the second best. That will be judged at the end of my career. For now I'll continue to train and race in a passionate way. If the results keep coming, I'm happy,” Gilbert said.
Versatility is not his only weapon. Gilbert also seems able to ride at a constant high level. He's been showing off his good form ever since his win in the Volta ao Algarve halfway February although that was a side note on the day when Albert Contador made his return to competition. “I don't know why I can do that. Luckily nature gifted me with this ability. It probably helped that also as a young rider I've always been training long and hard for several days in a row. Sometimes I over-trained and was nervous making me arrive tired at races,” Gilbert said before playing down his excellence in the one-day races.
“Some riders are racing here even though they're aiming to be at their best in other races like the Grand Tours while I'm specifically aiming towards these races. I'm not making the difference by my way of training. Everybody has a personal coach nowadays and we're all riding at a very high level. It's the quality of training towards a specific goal that makes the difference. That's modern cycling I guess.”
With Cancellara being the Superman in the pavé-races there was often a negative way of racing from some teams towards the Swiss rider. It resulted in Cancellara missing out on the win in both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
“I understand that everybody was riding on his wheel even though I'm not racing that way. Flanders is relatively flat and that allows some to take profit of another rider. Defensive tactics are easier and it pays off in cash. In this race the best riders are in front and everybody has to go flat out. In Liège[-Bastogne-Liège] it's even harder,” Gilbert said.
Even though he's the first rider since Jan Raas to win the Amstel Gold Race for the second year in a row Gilbert considers it as a side-event. His main goal remains the biggest race in the Ardennes, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The race is one of the five cycling monuments, the biggest one-day races in the sport. Two years ago Gilbert finished fourth, last year third and there's nothing Superman wants more than grabbing the win on home soil next Sunday.