Belgians Philippe Gilbert (FDJ) and Stijn Devolder (Discovery) had the chance of their lives to win a major classic in Paris-Tours yesterday, but tactics dictated that they lost in the last 200 metres. The pair had escaped with 25 km to go, building up a one minute lead at one point that was whittled down to around 20 seconds with 2 km left. At 1 km, it was still 11 seconds, but Gilbert found himself leading Devolder all the way to the finish, and he naturally slowed down. The result: the bunch caught the duo with 200m to go and neither finished with a place.
Both were frustrated with the non-result, with Gilbert showing it with an internationally known one armed gesture aimed at Devolder just before the finish, and a can of coke hurled on the ground. "What should I have done?" asked Devolder. "I gambled and lost. If I'd known that we had just 11 seconds in the final kilometre, I would have done one more turn. We didn't understand each other well.
"I have proved that I can ride a perfect race, really until 250 metres to go. If I'd ridden the last kilometre flat out, then I would have heard again that I'm a stupid rider."
Devolder also said that he was riding under instruction from team director Dirk Demol, who told him not to take a turn in the final kilometre as Gilbert was the faster sprinter. "I'm very frustrated, even if I had theoretically less chances than Philippe to win a two man sprint.
On Gilbert's part, the Wallonian rider said, "I believed I could be the winner until 200 metres to go. But Devolder refused to take a turn and that put an end to our initiative...If Devolder had ridden that last kilometre, then we would have both been on the podium. Now we've both got nothing.
"At the World Championships in Madrid, we stayed in the same room. It didn't work out the best. In the three days in Madrid, we maybe exchanged four words. Yet we have to go further with each other for years. It won't ever be the same between us."
It was a contrast to last year's race, when Matthias Kessler and Erik Dekker were away with a similar margin, but Dekker - who had been in a day long break - and Kessler both worked inside the final kilometre, with the result that Dekker won and Kessler finished seventh. But the latter gained some satisfaction this year as his teammate Erik Zabel took line honours in Tours for the third time in his career.