Philippe Gilbert has won the prestigious Vélo d’Or award for 2011, after a season that saw him dominate the Ardennes Classics and pick up no fewer than 18 wins.
The Belgian beat Tour de France winner Cadel Evans and world champion Mark Cavendish into second and third in the annual poll of international journalists organised by the French Vélo Magazine. Fabian Cancellara captured the prize in 2010.
“I think I’ve had an exceptional season and I know that you have to go a long way back to find a season of this calibre,” Gilbert told Vélo. “But I think it’s too early to assess it, I really need a few years of distance.”
Gilbert, who moves to BMC in 2012, has earmarked Milan-San Remo as the next monument classic that he would like to inscribe on his palmares. While the Tour of Flanders finale is set to alter dramatically next season, the romantic in Gilbert appreciates that La Classicissima remains more or less unchanged.
“Milan-San Remo is a very historic race, with a route that is practically always the same,” he said. “Eddy Merckx won it seven times, and I have the chance to ride the same route as he did thirty years ago. It’s good to be able to identify with the exploits of other generations, to superimpose the images. That’s what’s beautiful.”
Although Gilbert took the overall classification at the Tour of Belgium and Ster ZLM Toer in 2011, he has no immediate ambitions to try his luck in more demanding and longer stage races.
“I’ve never tried to win stage races, it’s something to be explored,” Gilbert said. “But for now, I’m dreaming of one-day races. It’s one or the other, and I don’t want to make that choice yet.”
Not surprisingly, Thomas Voeckler comfortably picked up the Vélo d’Or Français for best French rider for the second successive year, ahead of his Europcar teammate Pierre Rolland and sprint world champion Grégory Baugé.
The prize for best young rider went to Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), who edged out Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) by just one point, with Matt Goss in third.
Gilbert, Voeckler and Sagan are also all in the running for prizes in the Cyclingnews 2011 reader poll, and you can vote here.