One quick look back and then hammer down. Philippe Gilbert looked like his 2011 version when he suddenly went full gas up and blew past Vincenzo Nibali with about 2 kilometers to go on the final climb of the Cauberg. He quickly opened a gap and it was goodbye.
Given his miserable classics season, you pretty much knew he won’t let anyone catch him. Gilbert’s face showed a look of agony but he kept hammering. Alejandro Valverde of Spain and Edvald Boasson Hagen reacted slowly, a hesitation that killed their chances.
After two stage wins in the Vuelta and a strong showing in the Olympics, Gilbert came to Valkenburg full of confidence. He could trust his legs and his race instincts. When he glanced back, it took him less than a half second to decide it was now or never.
“I did the perfect climb. I attacked at the right time,” said Gilbert. “I went just after the steep part of the climb with 2.2km still to go. It was very long to the finish but also very fast. I just stayed focused on my effort until 200 meters to go, when I knew it was for me.”
He meant that jersey, the one he’ll wear for the next year, the lycra with the rainbow stripes. “It’s hard to realize what it feels like,” Gilbert said. “But I think I will feel the difference next Thursday in Piemonte. Then it will be a great, great moment for me.”
He’s had only two wins this year and waited until August in Spain to get them, but on a Sunday in the Netherlands, Gilbert put it all together again. “It’s hard to realize what happened. The Belgians did outstanding work. We deserved to win this title,” said Gilbert at the finish. “I was placed excellently [on the climb]. I looked back quickly and then took off. I still don’t realize that I am world champion.”
The powerhouse Spanish squad animated much of the race but Valverde couldn’t finish it off. He took his fourth podium but wasn’t as lucky as Alexander Vinokourov in the Olympic road race. Boasson Hagen beat Valverde for second but fell far short of challenging Gilbert. “Gilbert was very strong and there was nothing I could do,” said the Norwegian.
Nobody could touch gilbert because this wasn’t the same rider who failed miserably in the Spring Classics. This was the guy from back in 2011 — one look showed us all that was true.