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Gilbert enjoys first leadership in a Grand Tour

Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) took a fine stage win in Malaga

Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) took a fine stage win in Malaga (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) looked very focused on the sea side of Marbella at the start of the Vuelta a España's stage three. The 28-year-old Belgian even tried to hide that he had gone to the Castillo de Gibralfaro to reconnoitre the uphill finish by car in the morning but the news was broken by his teammates.

The other riders in the bunch didn't need to know that for naming him as the hottest favourite for the day's line honours, however.

The Belgian classics specialist added to Monday's Vuelta stage win with status as Omega Pharma-Lotto's leader in a Grand Tour - for the first time - and he was delighted to get the red jersey.

"It's a nice surprise," he said. "I had been second on the results sheets of the Tour de France once behind Alejandro Valverde after stage one in Plumelec [2008]. It was also an uphill finish. I was once classified sixth at the Giro. I've been close to the jersey before but I didn't get it. Now I'll do my best to respect this red jersey."

Gilbert won in Malaga in the same way he claimed the Amstel Gold Race in April: "This one was a similar climb to the Cauberg," he explained.

Gilbert is a happy man. Three weeks prior to his first stage win at the Vuelta, he married his girlfriend Patricia on August 7 in Belgium. Their first baby is expected two months from now and when he crossed the line, he kissed a jewel to send her a message of love.

But he has set his sight on another event as well. "I came to the Vuelta for gearing up for the world championships and with the ambition of winning a stage," he said. "The second goal is already reached."

Gilbert doesn't hide his ambitions to become the world champion in Geelong, Australia, on October 3. "The toughness of the course has been underestimated by many favourites," he said. "If it's a sprint at the end, there'll be a maximum of 25 to 30 riders. We might see the same riders who usually perform well at the Worlds.

"I've seen that [Russia's Alexandr] Kolobnev is here with the same aim as me, which is working for the team and training well. [Filippo] Pozzato and [Daniele] Bennati should be there for Italy, [Simon] Gerrans will play at home and of course [Oscar] Freire is always a man to watch," he added.

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