Gilbert vs. the rest

Gilbert Huy

I don’t know where to start, but Philippe Gilbert is surely the most impressive rider of the spring. Cancellara was strong but couldn’t deliver a win; Nuyens and Goss were clever. But for raw power uphill, Gilbert is looking invincible. I wasn’t sure if he could win the Flèche Wallonne but he looked fresh as the bunch tackled the penultimate climb, with riders like Alberto Contador grimacing.

There were doubts in the Flemish classics earlier. He took the Montepaschi Strade Bianche but then seemed a little bit off the pace although that’s relative given he was on the attack over the Bosberg. Some were asking if he was going to miss out on his spring classics campaign.

But as a boy he grew up on the slopes of La Redoute, his childhood home sits on the route of Liège–Bastogne–Liège and it’s Sunday’s race that’s been his goal all along. He now looks irresistible, able to cope with a sprint finish as easily as the vicious climb of the Mur de Huy. In other words, he’s got a box of tricks able to foil almost anyone.

How to beat him?
As good as he is, this is sport and anything can happen. One of the attractions of cycling is that it is tactical and dynamic, the strongest rider doesn’t always win. Plus there’s always the chance he has an off day this Sunday. But if the other teams want to reduce his chances, here are some thoughts:

  • Isolation: Gilbert has a strong team with some great riders, for example Jelle Vanendert was a surprising sixth place in the Flèche Wallonne. But non are fuoriclasse. So if the other teams can blow the race apart, it is possible to isolate Gilbert in the final. Leopard for example could use the Schleck Brothers and Jacob Fuglsang to shred things and force a selection but the risk is the work isolates Gilbert to the advantage of another rider or team. Katusha are another team with several cards to play.
  • Pride: with some a powerful demonstration, it’s possible Gilbert believes in himself too much. Just as Cancellara tried a bold long range move in Flanders, it’s possible Gilbert plays the artist too.
  • …err, that’s it

It’s hard to think of more ways to get rid of him. He can climb, he can sprint and he’s in top form with a dedicated team. It’ll still be great to watch Sunday’s race to see if he can do it. It is not easy, very few riders have scored the triple of the Amstel, Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège all in the same year. Davide Rebellin managed it in 2004. Just winning the Amstel-Flèche double, plus on top of the Brabantse Pijl is enormous and worthy of all superlatives. To take Liège would be something else.

Last year Cycle Sport Magazine asked me to join a panel of contributors to name the most memorable performance of the year. I picked Gilbert’s ride in the Giro di Lombardia, saying “Not having seen Merckx race, there was a glimpse of cannibalism about the way Philippe Gilbert dispatched his rivals one by one in the Tour of Lombardy” and this seems true in 2011 again.


18 thoughts on “Gilbert vs. the rest”

  1. I think the Lombardy victory in the rain and this win on Huy are going to do the most for Gilbert’s thoughts on how he continues his upward trend. He should ignore calls to go for GC in a Tour and focus on at least another 2-3 years of classics- spring and autumn with the worlds there as well. If he wins L-B-L it will be his greatest moment so far. Tactically and physically its going to be a big ask for him regardless of form. He cannot cover everything even with guys like Jurgen VDB working for him. I’ll be on La Redoute enjoying every second.

  2. I know it its a little early to be focused on the La Doyenne, but I have to say that (I hope) PG will NOT win L-B-L. La Doyenne is a really really brutal test that only “superhumans” can win (please have a look at last 20 yrs winners: Argentin, De Wolf, Sørensen, Berzin, Gianetti, Richard, Bartoli, Bartoli, Vandenbroucke, Bettini, Camenzind, Bettini, Hamilton, Rebellin, Vinokourov, Valverde, Di Luca, Valverde, A Schleck and Vinokourov). And if you are mabye just that little past your 100 % physically peak (PG said to have sour legs the first 140 k yesterday), but still mange to pull one more out his sleeves in one week, I will start wondering.. So please do not win on sunday!

  3. I hope he wins it so he can concentrate on getting his form right for a month or so earlier in the upcoming years – If he can knock LBL on the head he can then aim to peak for Flanders or MSR but as long as LBL remains out of his Palmares it will always be his priority. If you think of what he has done in MSR & Flanders so far, where he is still a few weeks short of his peak then he would have win them some day if he dedicated the winter to peaking then.

    Furthermore, he has past in holding his form for a while – remember his end to 2009 where he won pretty much everything before (and including!) Lombardy (Milano-Torino, Gran Piemonte, Sabatini & Paris Tours), occasionally with a certain Rainbow jersey acting as domestique.

  4. As the article itself more or less suggests (Biarnes72 calls it Van Summeren mode), is to lay the entire burden of the race on the shoulders of Omega Lotto. Right from the start! Yesterday it was Saxo and Leopard doing all the dirty work, with Gilbert and his team being profoundly asleep deep inside the peloton. In Liege all teams must attain an attitude like ‘Phil, if you want to win, please go ahead, but you must do it all by yourself’. An early escape with a considerable group of quality riders may do the trick. It will force Omega to work all day. And hopefully this will isolate Gilbert in the final part of the race.

    If not, there’s nothing to stop him at the moment. Which will be a pretty boring race.

  5. Science I don’t think it’s as much him as OpL who are pushing for him to race in a GT. He clearly (and with good reason) doesn’t care much for him, but from the owners point of view they (somewhat rightly) want one of their main men on show in the biggest race of the year.

    I can see both sides here. However given how good Phil has been this year and the fact his contract is up at the end of it I think he’s in the perfect position to tell the directors where to go if they start trying to push him towards a GT he doesn’t want to race.

  6. @starr – I am the same. In football or other sports I love to see the favourite lose but once we knew the break was away at Roubaix I was a little disapointted. Nuyens left me underwhelmed and but for being Australian Goss probably would have too (although I think he will become a great).

    Having said that, they were all great races.

  7. Nick.

    Agree its OpL pushing him for Gc and further exposure. He should resist this at all costs. Jurgen is good enough for GC and pushing Gilbert in that direction will upset the apple cart of what is now a team working together. You win races when one goal is targetted and you have guys like JVDB ready to help. For sure Gilbert can win on his own but he used his team well during this last few races and that has to continue. I may be prooved wrong, and will be happy to be so, but I dont think Gilbert can break the top 5 of the TdF or the Giro. A weak veulta perhaps but with the amount of climbing in the Giro and the veulta i dont think so. Someone will say just drop weight but its not that simple.

  8. I never said he would win a GT. And I don’t think that’s his aim.

    OpL just want him winning the odd stage or two at the TdF whilst having a GC threat. Not that it’s asking much of course….

  9. One word missing from your superlatives re. Gilbert: class. He’s very definitely one of the good guys, both in how he rides and how he presents himself to the media afterwards. Is there a more likely candidate cycling right now to win every Monument? If for no other reason, I’ll be cheering for him on Sunday.

  10. Yesterday was mightily impressive moreso because it’s the one he wasn’t really expected to win. I don’t kmow what tatics the teams will use on Sunday but I still think it will be difficult if not impossible to beat him. He’s hit a line of form that is exceptional and as long as he can ride it I think we’re in for a treat on Sunday.

    A few years back we had a triple by one of the dirtiest riders in the peloton. I think Gilbert is clean and I’d love him to win on Sunday to show us It can be done!

  11. I like this guy’s style! Claims are he pays no attention to the radio and races with his own head and more often than not it seems to work for him. I thought it was great that he won despite being marked, unlike the whiner on the Schleck team. Will any of those “skunk” teams (Garmin, Sky, Leopard-Trek, who can tell them apart in a helicopter shot? I feel sorry for the commentators!) have anything for Gilbert and Co. on Sunday? No matter who wins I’d like to see an event “raced to win” rather than “raced to avoid losing”. Gilbert seems to truly “race to win”, risking everything while waiting for the precise moment to unleash his attack. I truly thought he’d waited too long at Fleche, making for an exciting finish.

  12. I’m glad Gilbert won Fleche and would love to see him win on Sunday. As has been said, he’s a class rider. I also pull for the Belgians/Northern Europeans in the Classics, since these races are so much a part of the geography.

    I’m looking forward to a great race on Sunday. I’ll probably watch the taped coverage, so I can have a couple of beers in the evening. I’ll be glad if Cunego is not in the mix. I find Phil Liggett’s commentary on Versus grating and simplistic. I especially dislike how often he calls Cunego’s nick name nasally, “the petit prince”. After all, with as little class as Cunego has shown lately, why call his name all the time?

  13. @Tom – I totally agree with you on the quality of Versus’ coverage of cycling. I decided to wait and watch Paris-Roubiax on Vs. and was shocked by the lack of information they were providing. It sounded like they had no idea where riders were on the road for the duration of the race and constantly gave wrong info about what riders had mechanicals or hit the pave.

    Back to the pirated Euro Sport feed for me!

  14. @Tom – keep an eye on the clock. Looks like Versus isn’t showing LBL until 12:30 AM. Hockey is taking precedence. If that’s Raleigh, NC, then being east coast like me you might have to go in late on Monday.

  15. I was very glad to see PG crush the ninnies today, but a little piece of me wonders if we’ll see Omega curiously ‘helping’ Leopard in the TdF.

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