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Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux), 26, wins the 102nd Paris-Tours
Philippe Gilbert, 26, of Team Française des Jeux took his first major Classics victory on the Avenue de Grammont in Tours. On the long finishing straight, the Belgian got the better of the chasing bunch, with the sprinters crossing the line just a few seconds behind the late attackers.
With six kilometres to go, Gilbert bridged up to an escape group made of Sébastien Turgot (Bouygues), Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel), Mickaël Delage (Française des Jeux) and Jan Kuyckx (Landbouwkrediet). Delage led out the sprint for his teammate, who was able to raise his arms in delight with Kuckx coming in second behind him, and Turgot third.
USA's Tyler Farrar (Garmin Chipotle - H30) led home the bunch sprint in front of Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto) and Erik Zabel (Team Milram), for whom it was his farewell race before retirement.
When he announced in May his move to Silence-Lotto after six years building his career at Française des Jeux, Philippe Gilbert was full of praise for Marc Madiot and stated that he wouldn't end the season before giving him a reward. As he met his French director in the bus after the finish at Paris-Tour the Belgian said "You see. I held my promise!"
At the start in Saint-Arnould-en-Yvelines, Gilbert had a chat with former Paris-Tours winner Jacky Durand who reminded the younger rider that he hadn't won a race for a while. "Yeah, it's been a long time since March 1st," the winner of the Het Volk admitted.
"When I was a child the races that fascinated me were the most were the world cup events and Paris-Tours was one of them," Gilbert said after the race. "Now I know that Milan-San Remo and Paris-Tours are the two races that suit me the most. I've finished 3rd and 1st at these two races this year. It means I install myself in the world of cycling. In these classics, I manage to place myself well in the bunch and ride a lot at economy. I know how to save strength of the flat sections of the roads."
Gilbert also praised the sacrifice of teammate Mickaël Delage (who will follow Gilbert to Silence-Lotto next year). "The work he has done for me was enormous", Gilbert said adding that he actually thought Delage was on his way to winning Paris-Tours when he broke away with 15km to go together with French champion Nicolas Vogondy, Jan Kuyckx and Sébastien Turgot. "Mickaël found his place in this front group and I said to myself that I'd work for him. I positioned myself in 3rd in the bunch and I tried to slow the speed down. When they got 25 seconds lead, I believed in Mickaël to win Paris-Tours."
Gilbert says his move to join the leaders was simply team tactics. "I thought I'd play my role for the team once again [as he did two years for Frédéric Guesdon, ed.]. When [Filippo] Pozzato attacked (out of the chasing peloton) I followed his wheel. Guesdon told me via the radio: go! I gave everything in the last climb because I'm an explosive rider. As I got back on, I told Mickaël to ride a little time trial. He's a specialist for the pursuit on the track."
"I attacked in the finale but when I saw that Oscar Freire came behind me," said Filippo Pozzato. "I stopped my effort because I knew I had no chance to win against him. Gilbert went just after that. Hadn't Freire followed me, I think I could have won Paris-Tours. I was feeling great. At least I have confirmation of my good form and it gives me a good morale for concluding on a high note my stay at Liquigas next Saturday at the Tour of Lombardy."
Gilbert's manager didn't fear his adversaries in the last 500 meters. "When I saw him going out of the box with 200 meters to go, I thought it was no worries for the win," Madiot observed.
"It happened only when I managed to put my chain on the 11", Gilbert underlined. "Until 400 meters to go, it was blocked on the 12 and I couldn't put it on the 11."
Turgot was probably the strongest of his rivals for the final sprint. "But when Gilbert passed me, I couldn't accelerate anymore", said the neo-professional from Bouygues Telecom who had mixed feelings shared between the loss and the joy of getting his first podium result at a very big race. "I can't be satisfied to finish 3rd instead of 1st but I'm super happy to be up there in a 260km long classic," said the rider from Nantes. "At the beginning of the season, I was wondering if I had the level to compete as a professional but since the ENECO Tour, I feel much better."
Delage says he feels no disappointment in seeing a win in Paris-Tours slip from his hands and into that of a teammate. "I feel just as much happiness as if I had won the race myself. I anticipated Philippe's attack because I was convinced that he would come across by himself. At the end I sacrificed myself and I'm so pleased with the final result."
Both Gilbert and Turgot will finish their season next week at the Chrono des Nations in Les Herbiers in the west of France.
After only seven kilometers, a group of four riders took off: Lucas Euser (Garmin), Sébastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet), Cyril Lemoine (Crédit Agricole) and Tom Veelers (Skil-Shimano). David Zabriskie, also from Garmin, rejoined them at km 47 while the gap had reached 6 minutes to the peloton.
A record lead of 11.15 was noted in Bonneval (km 67). A few teams chased them down: Rabobank, Liquigas, Quick Step and Silence-Lotto. Slowly but surely the gap decreased. It was only 2.30 in Amboise (km 191) as Paris-Tours arrived close to the hills of the crucial finale. Zabriskie imposed himself a time trial effort in order to get caught the latest possible.
The most active riders behind him were Liquigas' Maciej Bodnar and Silence-Lotto's Olivier Kaisen.
With 30km to go, the gap was only 1.10. There was such a tension in the bunch with a massive sprint coming that it created a few crashes. Among the top sprinters, Oscar Freire was a famous victim but he'd go back on.
In the côte de Crochu, Lemoine isolated himself in the front with 26km to go. The Crédit Agricole rider was caught by a group of nine riders led by Bouygues Telecom's Thomas Voeckler and Maarten Tjallingi of Silence-Lotto. Although Quick Step worked extremely hard for a bunch sprint in favour of Tom Boonen, four riders managed to go clear with 15km to go: French champion Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel), Mickaël Delage (Française des Jeux), Jan Kuyckx (Landbouwkrediet) and Sébastien Turgot (Bouygues Telecom).
In the côte de l'Epan located 8km before the end of the 2.6km long avenue de Grammont in Tours, Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) countered Filippo Pozzato who attacked from the bunch and didn't insist due to the presence on his wheel of the green jersey of the Tour de France. The Belgian bridged the gap on his own. The five riders managed to keep a significant lead under the red flame. Vogondy started the sprint, Turgot took the lead and Gilbert passed him 200 meters before the line.