The Moment The Race Was Won: The Worlds

Gilbert holland

After 260km a large group of riders started the final climb of the Cauberg together. The Italians set the pace but Philippe Gilbert accelerates and nobody can match him. His eyes are fixed the road ahead whilst behind Edvald Boasson Hagen hunches low on his bike and Alexandr Kolobnev cannot follow. Gilbert reaches the top of the Cauberg first and, aided by a tailwind, speeds at 6okm/h to win solo. This was the moment the race was won.

The race started out with a 100km loop around the Limburg area, a region where the roads have more furniture than Ikea. The pace was fast from the start but luckily there were few crashes despite the obstacles. Jeremy Roy and Bertjan Lindeman were the first to go clear. Meanwhile Oscar Freire crashed, the most stealthy of riders, you normally only see him with 250 metres to go but there he was with 250km go.

Attacks followed and it took a while before a group with Lastras (Spain), Cataldo (Italy), Duggan (USA), Howes (USA), Coppel (France), Anacona (Colombia), Mezgec (Slovenia), Isaichev (Russia), Buts (Ukraine), Ferrari (Uruguay) and Kangert (Estonia) got away. This was a strong group, normally you’d expect relatively unknown riders to go in the early move but Cataldo and Coppel are excellent riders and others are strong. Howes was replaying his Amstel move from April when he made the early break and survived with fellow neo-pro Romain Bardet until the penultimate climb. Behind the British team were chasing with none other than Mark Cavendish setting the pace, a proud way to relinquish his jersey until he abandoned with 110km to go. The race had averaged a speedy 44km/h.

A counter-attack had gone with Cummings (GB), Nocentini (Italy), Meersman (Belgium), Matthews (Australia), Bouet (France), Schär (SwitzerlandI), Beppu (Japan), Fuglsang (Denmark) and, the man who launched it, Flecha (Spain). The group were en chasse patate to use a French phrase that translates as “potato hunting” and means they were stuck in between the break and the bunch.

limburg cycling

Then Contador launched a move with just over six laps to go. It wasn’t an attack, more than a sustained pull on the front.It had that accordion effect, you didn’t see much on the front but behind it stretched out the bunch and compressed the lungs of weaker riders. A wave of abandons followed. But it was on the following lap that El Pistolero took off the safety catch and shot up the Cauberg, taking a serious group with him. In the move was Voeckler (France), Gesink and de Kort (Netherlands), Tiernan-Locke (GB), Albasini (Switzerland), Ulissi and Marcato (Italy).

The Contador group gobbled the nine potato-hunters and then reached the 11 leaders, creating a large group that started to power away with five laps remaining. Behind the Australians were chasing the lead group had several riders sacrificing themselves for their leaders, like Coppel for Voeckler and Flecha for Contador meaning the gap was steady. Voeckler was up to his usual tricks, harassing others which words, fidgeting on the bike and constantly angling his head like a dog trying to catch a scent in the air. But eventually the group was caught by a persistent chase – unsung heroes like Kevin De Weert form part of Gilbert’s rainbow spectrum – and the bunch swelled even more when dropped riders began to come back whilst everyone watched each other.

Before the bell and attack from Kolobnev followed by Nibali drove a group away but it was reeled in. This wasn’t vintage racing, people won’t spend the winter reviewing the DVD but all the same it was exciting in nervous sense. With 10km to go it was still unpredictable. An attack, a sprint?

The race reached the final bend at the foot of the Cauberg and if the Italian’s led, it was ideal for Gilbert. Just as the Azzurri were redlining, Gilbert jumped and immediately got a noticeable gap. The power required to take just five seconds’ advantage was huge but Gilbert’s the kind of rider who for whom lactic acid is as troublesome as salad dressing. It was as if the finish had been designed by the Dutch for him. Only Boasson Hagen and Kolobnev were visible in their chase and they were joined by Alejandro Valverde. But Gilbert found the tailwind and was so far ahead he had time to sit up, enjoy the moment and celebrate.

gilbert limberg valkenburg worlds

The Rise of Gilbert
He turned 30 last summer but Gilbert’s talent has been known about for years. He impressed in the junior ranks and quickly gave up his horticulture apprenticeship to ride full-time.

He turned pro with FDJ in 2003. A Walloon, the French speaking team was an obvious pick but he also wanted to join a clean team at a time when the sport was riddled with dopage. He impressed from the start, collecting podium places in his first year and even fourth overall in the Tour de l’Avenir. He then continued an upward curve with an ever improving list of wins, first in the Tour Down Under and small French races and then a breakthrough in the 2006 Omloop Het Volk, winning after a long solo break. He left FDJ in 2008 after putting Tom Boonen to the sword in Paris-Tours, they escaped on the hills in the finish and Gilbert won, finishing a season packed with quality results.

Amstel Gold Race podium

2009 saw him move to Belgian squad Silence-Lotto and after a stage win in the Giro, finished the year with a remarkable series of the Coppa Sabatini, the Giro del Piemonte and the Giro di Lombardia with Paris-Tours inbetween. 2010 saw a win in the Amstel Gold (pictured, ahead of Enrico Gasparotto and Ryder Hesjedal). Gilbert’s mother-in-law is from the area and it’s proof that the Cauberg felt like home. He finished the year with another win in Lombardy again.

Liege Bastogne Liege Gilbert

2011 was the magic season where phrases like “imperial” and “state of grace” come to mind. He won the Strade Bianche, was third in Milan-Sanremo and then he had an unbeatable streak with the Brabantse Piji, the Amstel, the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège before winning the Tour of Belgium, becoming national champion, winning the opening stage of the Tour de France and the yellow jersey, winning the Clasic San Sebastian, becoming Belgian TT champion and taking his home GP Walonnie. And I’ve only listed the best wins.

By the start of 2012 Gilbert was the pick to win in Valkenberg. He’d come off a great season in 2011 and looked set to repeat this and add the rainbow jersey too. But nothing happened. There was talk of toothache, dental infections and antibiotics whilst some said his BMC bike didn’t fit him, others said marriage and his giant salary had made him soft. Either way he fell short and copped a lot of criticism in the Belgian press which takes cycling as serious as soccer; meanwhile Tom Boonen stormed the spring classics. Yet Gilbert came back for two stage wins in the Vuelta and ended up winning the worlds just as everyone expected nine months ago.

Ion like a Lion
Finally a word on how he does it. There’s probably nobody else in the bunch who can tolerate lactic acid like Gilbert. He attacks whilst others are asphyiated by anaerobia. Here’s his former coach from FDJ, Fred Grappe saying he’s one of the top two riders for “lactic explosiveness” (along with the Spanish strangler Joaquim Rodriguez)

This is both inherited and trained. For years Gilbert has enjoyed finding a hill and powering over it. Normal, he was born near the foot of the Côte de La Redoute and in more recent times treats the steep hills behind Nice and Sanremo in the same way, accelerating on the hill to simulate attacks and sprints.

1 Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) 6:10:41
2 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway) 0:00:04
3 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spain) 0:00:05
4 John Degenkolb (Germany)
5 Lars Boom (Netherlands)
6 Allan Davis (Australia)
7 Thomas Voeckler (France)
8 Ramunas Navardauskas (Lithuania)
9 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Colombia)
10 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spain)

65 thoughts on “The Moment The Race Was Won: The Worlds”

  1. Worthy World Champion, finally. And what a star commentator David Millar turned into on the BBC red button. He might have a bright future working for the medias – but sadly it just proves that cheating pays off…

    • Re: Cav not being a worth champion.. Everybody has their strengths (weaknesses) and and he beat Gilbert many many times.

      Re: Millar profiting from cheating… He came clean, has been working with WADA and trying to move on with his life while trying to help to clean the sport. What else do you recomend he do ?

      Would be good to show some respect / appreciation for their hard work and what they done for sport, rather being so condesing and dismisive…

      • Re Cav: Off bike he seems (from distance, that is) to be one of the nicest persons in the world. On bike he seems to be a slightly overweight, spoiled and very selfish one-trick-pony, with a lethal weapon for flat courses to hide behind. Would like to see him set new goals, slim down, attack, climp better – and maybe one day turn into a proper bike rider.

        Re Millar: my point is that if Millar hadn´t had the career/results he has had, cheating in the past for who knows how many years – you wouldn´t listen to him, having come clean or not. I certainly do respect the work of those who have come clean, and I do appreciate their hard work, but who offers commentator jobs to those who disappeared without nobody noticing due to lack of results because they decided to ride clean…

        • If you do a background check you’ll find quite a few commentators are ex-hopefuls or national-level pros who disappeared without anybody noticing.

        • Selfish? I almost dont know where to start with that one. OK, so he was being selfish yday was he, pulling the peloton for what 150k to stop the break from going too far out and to keep a manageable place for Tiernan-Locke? And how about the win he gifted to Renshaw at ToB last year. Just two examples. Enough of this selfish rubbish. He’s a winner through and through but he’s also a damned good team mate.

          As for saying that he’s not a proper bike rider…

          Clearly this goes beyond mere dislike….my conclusion is that you know nothing about bike racing.

          • I wish I was an “overweight, spoiled and very selfish one-trick-pony, with a lethal weapon for flat courses to hide behind, shit bike rider” just like Cav!

    • Even if you don’t like Cav, I find it hard to find much fault with the 2 guys who wore the rainbow jersey before him, Hushovd and Evans.

    • True, I was thinking the same at the time but there’s no random result after 260km and the Cauberg. To sprint for the win after this means all round ability, positioning and plenty more. Degenkolb would have been a surprise but still worthy, no?

  2. One of the really interesting things about bike racing (to me) is how races are as much lost as they are won. When Valverde, Kolobnev, and EBH were in a chase group behind I wondered if they could catch Gilbert. Instead nobody would work together; Valverde would later say, “each of us had a medal in our heads.” Then you read Freire’s comments about Valverde breaking the team’s plan, saying he could have won if Valverde had stayed with him. This takes nothing away from Gilbert’s dominant win, but it makes me wonder what could have happened. Could the chasers have caught him if they were committed to risking it all to win? Could Freire have won the Green Bullet wasn’t as selfish as he can sometimes be?

    A huge kudos to Gilbert.

      • I’ve given enough wins to my rivals to get that! But I also think that’s one of the beauties of Gilbert’s move. He forced the others into a situation where they had to make these decisions, and during their hesitation he was able to get the gap he needed to win.

      • Most of spanish riders are grand tour riders and they have problems to fight for positions. The were in front till 4 km. When they were riding direction Cauberg they lost the position. On Gilberts attack they were to far. I guess the Belgians are joking the day before the race lets come the proud Spanish whith 5 leaders when the battle begins they will have nobody in front because that’s not their speciality. Sorry for my English.

    • It would be a fascinating exercise to analyze the dynamics of those last few minutes from the perspective of game theory (think “Prisoners’ dilemma”, etc.) … how fast it goes from “I could win this” to “I would rather lose than let the other guy get a podium spot” … it drives us the viewers nuts to see them looking at each other instead of chasing the leader, but it must be a rational behaviour of some sorts… think Nash equilibrium from “A Beautiful Mind”.

      • And yet many mock Fabian Cancellara for doing just that; putting his head down and going for the win while towing a faster sprinter. This is why Gilbert and Cancellara are my favourites. They try to win regardless of who is following.

        • Agreed, I love that Cancellara rides to his strengths (TT/raw power) and often wins doing so.
          On the other hand I was bemused by Cancellara’s dismissal of Simon Gerrans’ for using his tactics against him to win M-SR, when Gerrans was another rider using his own strengths to win (strong enough to follow, slightly better sprint).
          It always easy to find fault with others when you haven’t taken home the chocolates…

  3. Magnificent. Sometimes the winner of a race just “feels right.” As disappointing as the Olympic RR was in this respect, the World Championship belongs to a deserving winner. Gilbert has recovered nicely from his disastrous spring, and hopefully we’ll see the rainbow stripes winning a monument next season.

    A fitting climax to a great season.

    • there’s even one monument left this season: Il Lombardia. And becoming the first one to win it three times and with this jersey on his shoulder will surely keep the fire of ambition burning. I’m expecting a great classic of the fallen leaves this year.

      • We’ll see, the route this year is even hillier with the fearsome Muro di Sormano which might tilt things away from Gilbert to, say, Nibali. But I’d still put Gilbert down as the favourite and it is one of the best races on the calendar.

        • it’s the best classic after Flanders and LBL. Always a worthy winner and decor of my favourite cycling moment ever. Bettini’s emotional win after becoming world champion and losing his brother in the same week. Seeing him ride clear of the bunch and crying all the way to the finish was unforgettable.

          • All of this is completely true, of course, but I’m looking forward to his performances in the spring; MSR and Flanders are both realistic possibilities for him.

            The spring classics have a special rhythm to them, and that is the time of year that the World Champion wants to shine. At Lombardia the World Champion will be in top form almost by default, since all you’re really doing is maintaining form from the Worlds; in the spring everything is a new ballgame.

            “Best classic after Flanders and LBL.” Not arguing this, but I find it humorous that of the monuments only Lombardia seems to lack a segment of passionate fans who stridently argue that any particular monument is the best one-day race of them all. There are significant people who argue in favor of MSR, Flanders, PR, and LBL. Nobody for Lombardia?

          • Lombardia doesn’t have to compete for attention during the spring. My view is that there’s no one best race, after all we don’t have to pick just one to watch every year. Lombardia is stunning to watch and, of all the landscapes, probably the best to ride in. Flanders is a good battleground ennobled by the race but on a normal day it is not so exciting. I can’t remember who it was but when one pro photographer was sent to Lombardia to cover the race he shrieked aloud with joy at the landscape.

          • It’s actually my favourite classic. I am very fond of the whole Italian autumn calendar, maybe it deserves more attention, or maybe its charm is that it is basically followed (and contested) by people with a special love of the sport. I wish they stopped toying with this part of the calendar. I think Lombardia should be in October, with a bit of rain, and Emilia and Sabatini should take place before that.

  4. any word on why Rodriguez was invisible in the finale (finishing almost a minute down with others who had sacrificed themselves)? Did he take pulls that I failed to see?

  5. Thanks for a ‘choice’ recap! Really enjoyed reading this post!

    I had to laugh at your comment regarding the ‘ Limburg area, a region where the roads have more furniture than Ikea’!

    And the ‘hommage’ paid to the only pro in line to win an Oscar Award, Mr Voeckler! I think his behaviour has started to bore people, as the Belgian commentators used to laugh at his antics but today they just started talking about other things as soon as he started pulling faces! I just groaned!

    Good for Phil and his ‘lactate tolerance’, as after almost a hundred meters of his decisive attack I thought he was going to implode, as he has done a number of times this year! Happy for him that he could end up grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat!

    And, of course, thrilled that a ‘homey’ has won!

  6. What a finale! What a race! Tactical racing at it’s best! Congratulations to team Belgium for playing it perfectly and positioning Gilbert right behind Nibali just as the shark accelerated at the foot of the Cauberg. Gilbert put his head down, went by Nibali and never looked back! Panache!

  7. My heart was in my mouth when Valverde started to chase Gilbert. I didn’t want another Olympics fiasco.

    Well done Phil – a great rider, a great champion and a great bloke.

  8. just watched the last lap again and I’d just like to say Valverde is a prick. Call it cunning, clever, furbo but he’s an arse. He deserves nothing as he’s not prepared to gamble. If he wasn’t there EBH & Kolobnev would have worked together. Shades of 2010 Liege from Valverde. Anyway nice race and JTLocke looks a natural on a bicycle.

    • Excuse me but how is what you have just described not part of racing? If Valverde wasn’t there bla, bla.. It means nothing. He was one of four riders up front when it counted and he played his card and his country’s. Chapeau to Gilbert, EBH, and Valverde for being above the others.

      Voeckler…you bore me now.

      • Sure it is part of racing to try to bluff the others into doing the work for you, but I agree with Jkeltgv in the sense that if Valverde’s is never prepared to gamble on putting some work into the chase, and his tactic is always to expect the others to work for him, then he can enjoy his now fourth visit to the podium of the worlds.
        The problem is, that unless he is also prepared to gamble by doing a little work on the front of a chase group, then he will probably never stand on the top step.

        • @jack, it may be bike racing but it’s also not going to get you many victories – 4 Podiums (podia?) but no gold and not even the excuse of riding for UCI points here either. It’s the worlds – all or nothing. I look forward to seeing his bronze bar tape and saddle for the next twelve months. The other issue you’ll have is more and more riders refusing to work with him in the future, perhaps.

          He doesn’t even take bluffing half pulls on the front like Gerrans in Milano-Sanremo. When the others have pulled through he sits up and looks back. I don’t know if is was him but at the Olympics when Vino attacked there was a Spaniard right there who looked back for someone else to do the work. Anyway, AndrewAlpen has put it more eloquently than I did and pretty much summed up what I was trying to say.

          Finally, the ifs and buts are what we are here for – it’s post race analysis & discussion. I certainly don’t just turn the telly off and not think about the race any more once they’re over the line.

          • I continue to disagree. Valverde is playing his card and his country’s. Why would he take a pull when his marching orders where to work for Oscar Freire? And to name Gerrans as a model of collaboration with Cancellara at Milan San Remo is frankly a joke. You mentioned 2010 Liege. In that race, Valverde attacked several times to breach to Vino and Kolobnev I believe. Did you want him to essentially bring in Gilbert and Evans up to the finish line only to be beaten by Gilbert? His tactic is to punch and counter-punch. I see nothing wrong with that.

          • I think jkeltgv would never like Valverde, regardless of how he rode. The facts are that he has four victories in the Ardennes classics to Freire’s none, that one of this Worlds podiums was in Hamilton to team-mate Astarloa and that he has more and more recent victories this year than Freire (or any Spanish rider not named Purito).
            He played his cards as well as he could, and Kolobnov also tried to attack the trio and it was only Valverde who brough EBH back to them.
            All four of the riders at the finish of that race are the best in the business. We may criticize them now but only they had front row seats to the action and know how their legs felt at that moment.

          • @Adam – you’re probably right. It’s funny how many cycling fans are irrational like that. We don’t have teams or even nations really, most of the time – just guys we prefer. Cunego is another I can never like. Even pre-ban & Puerto evidence I didn’t like Valverde but don’t mind Basso even now….stupid & irrational.

            @jack He didn’t take a pull. He followed when he shouldn’t have according to Oscar. In 2010 Liege Valverde only went once it was third that was all that was left after he’d ruined Gilbert & Evans’ (and his own!!) chances by sitting on and not contributing. That’s how I remember it anyway, as I hate him. Never said “model of collaboration” for Gerro. I said “bluffing half pull” and it was probably the difference between the win and getting swamped by the bunch. Smart riding that got a win – not crap riding for third. Sitting on Sparticus in the last few years is a totally different story anyway-he’s an idiot who’ll continue to pull. Kolobnev & EBH aren’t so foolish (or overvaluing of their own strength, especially with VV sitting on. Anyway, entirely unfacetiously I’m digging the dialogue.

  9. Seems I got BOTH of my wishes for a world champion..a classy guy who won’t likely be holding onto cars to get over the big climbs in 2013 as well as one generally regarded as clean. BRAVO Gilbert, even though you came around my favorite, Vincenzo Nibali, who just didn’t have the legs on the day.

    • Nibali has attacked and attacked and attacked all year and has had rotten results to show for it. Attack on the Poggio, finish third. Attack bravely at LBL, get caught and passed on the last rise to the finish. Attack Sky downhill from distance in the Tour, get drilled back into place. Attack on the Cauberg, watch Gilbert blow by you to win Worlds.

      “Tis better to have attacked and lost then never to have attacked at all.”

      I guess.

  10. I’m not a big power meter guy but I am interested in them. Seeing Gilbert’s performance today makes me wonder what kind of watts he was putting out as he blasted up the Cauberg. And then roll 37 mph over the last kilometer! That’s just a little more incredible than the 27 mph average speed which is mind blowing enough. Hats off to all the racers and hats off to Philippe Gilbert, World Champion.

  11. Gilbert obviously “making the calculations” better than anyone – joy to watch and great, he’s clean ! Seems he was just timing his peaking just right for this all along. Felt sorry for poor Nibali who is a class act. Great summary btw .. 🙂

  12. An excellent champion in an excellent podium, after a so-so race that unfortunately looked more like Flèche Wallonne than L-B-L. One more lap would have seriously improved the race. As usual, I won’t make assumptions on the “generally regarded” level of cleanliness or suspicion with regard to any one rider.
    Great photo above.

  13. Great execution in the finale by the Belgians.

    Leukemans brought Gilbert to the front at exactly the right time as Roelandts and Boonen created the perfect gap to assist his attack. I figure it was over then. Aside from Nibali, anyone who wanted to get on Gilbert’s wheel had to come from a long way back.

    The BMC team now has 4 of the last 5 World Champions on it’s roster!

  14. Respect to Gilbert for picking his race for the year, taking the flack early in the season, and doing the job.

    Peaking is an art. He is a master.

    • The best thing about all this…we might see white bibs to honour the jersey next season.
      In line with our irrational preferences, Cav could save 20 kittens from a burning building, help the blind to see and wipe out herpes and I would still frown every time I think of him.
      Black bibs and black shoes with the WC kit….disgraceful. Hopefully the WC course is hilly for the next ten years.

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