Gilbert claims last Avenue de Grammont victory in Paris-Tours

Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto)

Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto) (Image credit: Isabelle Duchesne)

Philippe Gilbert became the first rider to win Paris-Tours twice in a row since Nicola Minali in 1995 and 1996, and now they will be the only riders to have done so on the 2.6km long avenue de Grammont which was until today the longest straight road for the finale of a big cycle race.

Next year, the finish line will be relocated, possibly on the nearby Heurteloup street where Gilbert's compatriot Guido Reybroeck won Paris-Tours three times (1964, 1966, 1968).

Works will begin soon in the French city for the construction of tramway rails, but Gilbert will still seek a third title next season. "I heard it might be a trickier finale. That could also play in my favour", said the Belgian of his favourite classic.

A move from Française des Jeux to Silence-Lotto hasn't affected Gilbert's capacity to make the autumn French classic anything but a lottery. "To win this race, strategy is needed prior to the start," he explained. "I looked closely at the weather forecast yesterday and there was a big chance of a tailwind on the avenue de Grammont.

"Therefore I put a 54 ring instead of the 53. I knew I had a bigger gear than my adversaries in the end. I was able to reach a higher speed than them. With 500 metres to go, I had in mind to start my sprint at the 250 metres mark but I chose to go at 300. I moved away from Tom Boonen to surprise him and avoid him sitting on my wheel."

Gilbert disagreed that on paper he was the least fast of the three breakaway riders. Boonen and Borut Bozic have won bunch sprints in Grand Tours but not Gilbert.

"I came second at the Vuelta," Gilbert argued. "I used to finish between 5th and 8th in the bunch sprints, but getting older I realized it was not worth the effort."

The Walloon won Paris-Tours on his 100th day of racing this year. Aged 27, he still aims at winning Spring classics after finishing third in the Tour of Flanders, fourth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Amstel Gold Race.

"With a stronger team, I would have had more chances to win Amstel Gold Race as I missed the final front group by only 100 metres," he recalled. He gained the confidence of his team-mates at Silence-Lotto by coming third in the Tour of Flanders when the Belgian outfit was having a difficult start of the year.

On the initial plan of the team managers, he wasn't supposed to even take part in the Flemish race because that was reserved for Flemish riders like Leif Hoste and Greg van Avermaet. Gilbert ruled out the internal rivalry between the two communities of Belgium as a reason.

"I've got as many fans in the North as in the South of the country," he said. "Like in Italy, it's great to be supported when we race in Belgium where cycling is very popular. I got a bit depressed during the Vuelta seeing only three spectators along the road for 150 kilometres of racing."

As he speaks about Italy, Gilbert eyes the Tour of Piedmont and the Tour of Lombardy where he'll race with high ambitions again alongside world champion Cadel Evans who helped him to win the Coppa Sabatini on Thursday. But he has another event on his agenda and that is the Chrono des Nations in France on Sunday before he heads to Corsica for his holidays.

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