By Brecht Decaluwé in Lokeren
Philippe Gilbert commented his victory at the post-race press conference. The young Belgian was the one protected rider in the Française des Jeux team: "I was protected by my teammates right from the start," Gilbert said. "That way, I spared some energy to ride the finale. But, at first, it was very difficult to come back to the four man breakaway group. When I got into that group, I immediately worked together with them so I wasn't able to recuperate. I didn't want to bet on a sprint with Pozzato in the group. I tried to escape and as you probably noticed, it worked out well. [DS] Marc Madiot informed me about my advantage. I kept on pushing hard because I didn't want to lose it all in the last few meters."
His victory of the Omloop Het Volk is his first big win on Belgian ground. "I never achieved a victory in Belgium, so this is the most beautiful one of my professional career," he added. "This week I was frustrated about my performance in the Tour du Haut-Var. So I wanted to perform well over here."
Talking about his future, the only 23 year-old said, "Milano Sanremo is a race that I want to win one day. With my sixth place last year, I already proved that I can do well over there. I’m in no hurry, so if it isn’t this year, then maybe next year. Of course, maybe it will only happen in seven years."
Gilbert also paid tribute to his team director, Marc Madiot: "Marc keeps on saying that in the end, training does pay off. My victory today proves that this seems to be true."
Koen Barbé (Chocolade Jacques) was the biggest surprise of the day, finishing fourth. The former Belgian U23 champion wasn't expected to ride the race, being a reserve. "Last year, I had only one big win in the GP Dhaenens," he said after the race. "With this performance I also surprised myself. I wanted to help Niko Eeckhout by getting into the break of the day. My legs were not feeling good during the whole race. I never felt that I was good enough to stay in front. Apparently, the other riders were also suffering."
Marc De Maar was an unexpected face of Rabobank in the leading group, eventually finishing 15th: "In the future I can play an important role over here. I’m not like Boonen, but with some more power, I can get there." The Dutchman explained about a strange training technique in the past winter. "I wanted to do something different," he said. "I did a lot of speed skating on ice. Fortunately, it didn’t turn out the wrong way, but it resulted in good stamina."
Davitamon-Lotto's Wim De Vocht, who finished ninth, rode in front for most time of the race: "We were in a bad situation as there was a gap of six minutes with the front group of 13 men. At the back, we got organised and the big teams delivered two men each. Together with Bert Roesems, I was ordered to work for the team. On the hills, I suddenly noticed that despite my work I stayed in front of the group. At the last hill, the Molenberg, I was still there so I started to believe in my chances.
"At the end, I was not strong enough to win but I think nobody was stronger than me today. I was leading the pursuit for so many kilometres and still, I was able to fight for the win," De Vocht said.
The 23 year-old knows that there is a bright future ahead for him: "Still, I have some time as we have other team leaders. But, those guys like Van Petegem wont be there forever - so it’s up to me to take my chances, just like Nick Nuyens did last year. I progressed a lot this winter as I started to live like a real pro. I’m living for my sport a 100 percent now. Gilbert grabbed the win today, but in the youth ranks and even now, I never felt that I’m weaker than him."
The Belgian - like a true Flandrian - seems born to ride over cobblestones. "Some guys, when they see those pavé-sections, they start riding 5 km/h slower, but I will ride 5 km/h faster! In my hometown, Arendonk, there is a cobblestone section of 300 meters. I’m sure I rode over that street more than 300 times. Tomorrow, in Kuurne, I won't be there so I can recuperate from my efforts."
Davitamon-Lotto team director Herman Frison was also happy with the performance of his team today, and : "Unfortunately, we didn’t have a man in the big breakaway, so we had to work at the back. Wim De Vocht was the wrong man in front. Because he was the one that already worked a lot to bring everybody back together. By doing that he didn’t have the energy to clinch the win."
Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen, whose second child Elena was born last night, did not have anything to do with the race outcome. "With some 70 km to go, I saw that some teammates were better than me. So I said that they shouldn’t work for me. I had an emotional evening and night so this doesn’t come as a surprise to me."
A hammered Mark Scanlon stood a few metres away from the finish line that he crossed in 16th place. The Irish AG2R rider needed some minutes as well as a popular caffeinated soda to recover from his efforts. "I was riding in the leading group until 20 km from the finish. I blew up my legs on the last pavé section. Then it was over for me."
Unibet.com rider Gorik Gardeyn wasn’t able to ride in front. "When Boonen and Steegmans attacked on the Molenberg, I was riding in third position," the 25 year-old said. "They were riding two km/h too fast for me. In the next weeks, I’ll have to be able to dig deeper if I want to get a really good result."
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