If Fabian Cancellara is superman, what’s that make Philippe Gilbert?
The heavily marked and overwhelmingly favored Belgian rode a perfect, powerful race to win Amstel Gold. Like Cancellara on the cobbles, he was the strongest man in the race. Unlike the Swiss champion, Gilbert also managed to take first place.
“This is the most important week of my season and since Wednesday I’ve had super sensations. The team was super strong too which helped me mentally to economise my energy. Only during the last three kilometres I had to work a bit to get back to Andy Schleck,” said Gilbert. Uhh, did he say “super” sensations?
Gilbert blasted past an aggressive Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) in the final 400 meters, with Simon Gerrans taking a well-deserved third place. Gerrans had a 2010 season best described as invisible but he made a triumphant return today.
It was the Omega Pharma Lotto show and the whole team rose to the occasion. Gilbert had admitted earlier in the week he was putting pressure on them to perform. With strong teams like Katusha and Rabobank, he admitted he couldn’t do it alone.
He didn’t have to. Young Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Jelle Vanendert proved to be massive assets. They worked hard on the descent of the Fromberg and up the final climb of the Cauberg. Gilbert owes both riders a few cases of beer.
If Van Ben Broeck and company hadn’t stepped up, Katusha would have owned this race. They were motivated to generate some good news after Italian anti-doping police stopped by their headquarters. In the end, they took 2nd and a 5th with Alexandr Kolobnev — who is missing his biological passport.
While Frank Schleck had a lousy day at the office in Holland, his brother Andy went on the attack at the top of the Keutenberg. He gased the decent and pulled out a 10 second lead with 13 kilometers to go. “I wanted to win, I didn’t want to finish second or third, so that’s why I tried something,” said Schleck. “I’m not going to beat Philippe Gilbert in the sprint on this finish. So that’s why I put everything on one card.” Another lesson from Amstel: do not play cards with Gilbert.
However, the Leopard had picked a good spot to attack and Gilbert was the first to agree. “Schleck went at the right moment but I still had Jelle Vanendert and I was confident he could keep him under control. When the gap was up to 16 seconds I got worried,” said Gilbert. “I asked the Rabobank guys to work but they didn’t. Anyway, as a top favourite it was my responsibility so I pulled too.”
He pulled so much that Katusha’s Rodriguez said later, “I thought he was loco or super strong.” Leukmans, Freire and Rodriguez were all resting in his slipstream, bidding time and feeling confident. It seemed that Gilbert was perhaps burning matches too early.
“I thought it was possible to beat him by attacking from far out. He turned out not to be mad but super strong,” said Rodriguez. “The way he accelerated… super. Super-Gilbert. He pulled off a great numéro.” The Spaniard was impressed along with everybody else in Holland. (The final 10k are here for your youtube pleasure.)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvAxL6_gftc
Then again, that’s the superman part. On the Cauberg, it was Rodriguez who drilled it, almost tasting the win for Spain and Russia. He ripped past the fading Schleck but had a disasterous problem with his rear wheel: Philippe Gilbert was on it.
Two Amstels, please. Despite the extra workload, Gilbert still proved to be the boss, the man with the most watts. The French TV commentator was screaming “imbattable, imbattable” — unbeatable — as Gilbert corssed the line. Watching the performacne on TV, Taylor Phinney gave the performance seven WOWS!
Cancellara, the so-called superman must have been envious.