Peerless Gilbert wins Fleche-Wallonne
Wed, 20 Apr 14:59:00 2011
Philippe Gilbert took his second classics win in succession as he outsprinted the field to win the Fleche-Wallonne.
Four days after his victory at the Amstel Gold Race, Gilbert was expected to struggle against his arch-rival Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) on the tortuous Mur de Huy, but once again the Belgian powered clear over the final 300 metres, leaving himself enough time to sit up and savour his victory.
As was the case on the Cauberg, Rodriguez had to content himself with second place, several bike lengths clear of compatriot and Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) in third.
Gilbert now heads into Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday bidding to become the first man since Davide Rebellin in 2004 to complete a hat-trick of Ardennes victories.
FlÍche Wallonne finish
For much of the 201-kilometre race it had looked like there might be no bunch sprint at all to contest, as a four-man breakaway threatened to upset the odds and stay clear of the peloton.
Liquigas' Maciej Paterski was the first man to launch an attack in the opening kilometres, and was immediately joined by Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen), Maxime Vantomme (Katusha) and Matti Helminen (Landbouwkrediet). In contrast to the classics so far this season, the peloton showed no interest in chasing, instead allowing the quartet to build up a lead that grew to 17' as they hit the Mur de Huy for the first time after 70 kilometres.
Only as the peloton themselves approached the Mur did they begin to pick up the pace in earnest, with the Saxo Bank and Trek-Leopard teams leading the chase.
To their credit, the lead quartet worked admirably to preserve their lead, prompting the likes of Paris-Roubaix winner Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank) and German dynamo Jens Voigt (Trek-Leopard) to put put all their considerable power into closing down the gap, which was beginning to threaten the chances of the favourites.
The peloton had managed to haul themselves to within a minute of the breakaway as they hit the Mur for the second time, when Helminen was dropped by the three other escapees.
With just under 30 kilometres remaining Astana's Enrico Gasparotto broke clear of the peloton, bringing with him a high class group including Sky's Thomas Lovkvist, Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel), Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar) and Tejay van Garderen (HTC).
From that group Lovkvist and Kiryienka attacked again, though a strong effort from the Katusha team at the head of peloton ensured their lead grew to no more than 20 seconds over the penultimate climb of the day, the CŰte d'Ereffe, and they were finally brought back in with 11 kilometres remaining.
Quickstep's Jerome Pineau and Vacansoleil's Marco Marcato tried a brave attack as the previous duo were caught, and managed to pull out a respectable 20 seconds over the pack, prompting Rabobank to take over from Katusha and close down the gap.
Only once they tackled the first section of the Mur de Huy in the final kilometre did the Frank Schleck-led peloton sweep past them, with the favourites opting to keep their powder dry until the final 300 metres, when Gilbert kicked for home.
Rodriguez was unable to match the change of pace of Gilbert, and could do little as the Belgian slowly edged clear as they approached the crest of the hill. As they approached the flatter section of the top, Gilbert had enough of a gap to look behind and cruise across the line, arms aloft.Michael FitzGerald / Eurosport