Gilbert's Amstel Gold Race Win a Relief for Team Omega Pharma-Lotto
Philippe Gilbert ended a drought for Belgium and for his Omega Pharma-Lotto team when he won the 257.3-kms Amstel Gold Race classic.
Philippe Gilbert ended a drought for Belgium and for his Omega Pharma-Lotto team when he won the 257.3-kms Amstel Gold Race classic on Sunday.
The Belgian, impressive on the 31 hills and bumps on the long day's menu, surged on the last challenge, the Cauberg, to win ahead of Canada's Ryder Hesjedal and Italy's Enrico Gasparotto.
It was Belgium's first victory in the Dutch one-day classic since Johan Museeuw back in 1994 and it was also Gilbert's outfit's first major win this season, Omega Pharma-Lotto being the only ProTour squad still without a top finish in 2010.
In the absence of Swiss Fabian Cancellara, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix winner, Gilbert was the clear favourite and proved well up to the challenge.
Leading riders like Spaniards Alejandro Valverde, Luis Leon Sanchez, Samuel Sanchez and Carlos Sastre failed to make it to the start because of the air transport chaos over Europe.
Others like Tour of the Basque Country winner Chris Horner had to drive over 1,800 kms to get to the start in Maastricht.
Gilbert, 27, had tried hard since the beginning of the year with podium places in the Tour of Flanders and Ghent-Wevelgem but he was unbeatable this time, even allowing himself the luxury of slowing down before the finish.
"I was very strong today," he said. "I waited until 350 metres to go, then gave it all.
"I sprinted until 100 metres from the line and checked back. I saw that I had 50 metres (to spare). Those were the best seconds in my career."
The gifted rider from Verviers had finished 2009 in style with a clean sweep of the last four one-day races of the season but he had yet to win a major Spring classic.
The last 25 kms on narrow, dusty roads and the last seven climbs were a perfect showcase for the big names to display their respective strengths.
World champion Cadel Evans was the first to shake the bunch, then five kms later Luxembourg champion Andy Schleck also tried his luck twice.
On the Fromberg and Keutenberg hills, lined by Dutch fans clad in orange, Italian Damiano Cunego, winner in 2006, and titleholder Serguei Ivanov of Russia also gave it a go.
But Gilbert was equal to them all and launched his own attempt with 11 kms left.
As the Cauberg approached, world championship silver medallist Serguei Kolobnev broke out but again Gilbert was up to the challenge and raced clear to end the long wait for Belgium.