Rider Reviews: [2] Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors)

Name: Philippe Gilbert

Age: 34 years’ old

Nationality: Belgian

Most Recent Result: 1st, Amstel Gold Race (April, 2017)

Most Recent Win: Amstel Gold Race (April, 2017)

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“Philippe is one of the most talented riders in the peloton… a prolific and intelligent rider, he brings experience, panache and quality, as well as depth to the Classics squad.” – Patrick Lefevere, Quick-Step Floors cycling manager.

Now one of the most decorated riders in the peloton, Philippe Gilbert began his career riding as a stagiaire with FDJeux.com (now FDJ), turning professional with them in 2003. His first victory derived from the Tour de l’Avenir the same year, winning the 120km stage 9 after fierce competition from Samuel Dumoulin (then Jean Delatour) – who was looking for his 2nd stage win. While forest fires caused the route to be cut short, an aggressive stage controlled by Euskaltel-Euskadi finally culminated in a Gilbert triumph on the 2km climb of Solliès-Ville. The securing of the points classification for the Tour de ‘Avenir, as well as finishing 2nd in Tro-Bro Léon to Dumoulin, provided the neo-pro with a good start to his cycling career. Dumoulin would later win Tro-Bro Léon in 2004 too, yet his season was cut short after hitting a dog in the Tour de France and crashing.

[Dumoulin and Gilbert would later contest for more wins against each other however, be it Gilbert winning stage 2 of the Dauphiné Libéré in 2006 (referred to as the Critérium du Dauphiné post 2010), with Dumoulin finishing 2nd over 5 minutes behind, or at the 2013 World Championships, which Chavanel sprinted past them both to win.]

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Photo: AFP. Gilbert alongside French champion Vogondy, Winter 2003.

2004 saw Gilbert’s success reach the Tour Down Under, winning stage 3 ahead of Bates (Team UniSA) and McEwan (Lotto-Domo, now Lotto-Soudal), with his teammate Cooke placing 4th on the same time. While topping the youth classification he saw off limited competition, with just 5 riders competing for the jersey and his closest rival of Löfkvist over 36 minutes behind.

[While Löfkvist proved to be successful at Française des Jeux in 2004, as well as finishing as highest placed Team Sky rider in 2010 at the Tour de France, he also accumulated a National Time Trial Championship, a National Road Race Championship and young rider classifications to his name. A shock diagnosis with chronic fatigue led to an early retirement in 2014.

“My body is saying stop. I’ve enjoyed winning the Strade Bianche, but my most memorable moment is when I got the pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia in 2009. I’ve chosen my teams for their ethics and I’m proud of that.”]

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Photo: AFP. Gilbert at the Tour Down Under, 2004.

As well as seeing success in Australia, Gilbert saw this in France the same year, placing 2nd behind fellow Belgian Nuyens (then Quick-Step-Davitamon) at Paris-Brussels, then topping the GC at Paris-Corrèze ahead of Gerrans and De Kort. Gilbert secured 3rd on stage 1 as well as stage 2, before winning overall by 16 seconds. His representation at the 2004 Olympics in Belgium didn’t go unnoticed, finishing 49th in the men’s road race – ahead of the likes of the Slovak-turned-Czech Svorada (3 x Vuelta stage winner, 3 x Tour de France stage winner and 5 x Giro d’Italia stage winner) and German Jens Voigt (Giro D’Italia stage winner and 2 x Tour de France stage winner).

Building on his France-based success, Gilbert stepped up a level in 2005 with Française des Jeux, topping the rankings for the Coupe de France de Cyclisme Sur Route (French Road Cycling Cup). He won the Tour du Haut-Var, Trophée des Grimpeurs (Polymultipliée) and La Poly Normande, placing him at the top of the leaderboard with 162 points ahead of Turpin (AG2R) on 108. This also contributed to Gilbert winning best young rider, as well as Française des Jeux gaining the team classification. Later obtaining DNF’s alongside 3 teammates on the hectic last stage of Paris-Nice, as well as with 5 teammates at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he distanced the lead group at GP Marsaillaise with Van Huffel (Davitamon-Lotto), but they were misdirected and due to this, the 19 riders behind them contested for the win instead. Eventual winner Sørenson stated “the finish was confusing, it all got a bit hectic”.

“I haven’t spoken about any scandal, but last week I sent a letter to the UCI to say that it is below everything. I don’t expect a sanction, no. But if you train 5,000km in winter in the snow and the wind, then it is unacceptable that a win is stolen like that. They must understand that.” – Philippe Gilbert speaking to L’Equipe in 2005.

A win at Omloop Het Volk after breaking away from the leaders with 7km to go awaited Gilbert in 2006, using initiative to avoid a sprint for the line with Pozzato (then Quick-Step – Innergectic). After bridging up to the leading group twice, he repeatedly attacked off the front to take the win, 40 seconds ahead of De Waele (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago).

 [“This was the nicest win of my young career,” Gilbert explained after the finish. “The last five or six kilometres were very tough. I didn’t look behind.” – Philippe Gilbert after winning the 61st edition of Omloop Het Volk.

June brought the 58th edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, and another stinging attack from the Belgian. A win on stage 2, a whole 5 minutes and 19 seconds ahead of Dumoulin, sent Gilbert to the top of the GC standings until stage 5. A cooperative effort from the trio, complete with Gilbert’s teammate Joly and Vasseur from Quick-Step, saw Gilbert drop the pair and ease up to celebrate his uphill victory. He would later finish 2nd in the standings for the ‘Maillot vert’, 9 points behind the 69 gathered by Mancebo of AGR.

An operation towards the beginning of 2007 delayed his start to the new season, yet his first race of the Volta ao Algarve saw him reach 5th in GC. Le Samyn saw him take 2nd behind Casper (Unibet.com) and at the Tour du Limousin, Gilbert won the 1st stage. Not his luckiest season, he was caught with Ricco just 1.2km from the line at Milan-San Remo, after their attack on the Poggio was cancelled by Quick-Step and Team Milram. Française des Jeux were active in chasing down the earlier break at Paris-Tours later that year, which led to Gilbert, Pozzato (Liquigas) and Kroon (Team CSC) having the chance to distance the peloton with 7km to go. They were caught with just 500 meters to go.

“Pozzato was the fastest of us. 8 times out of 10 he’d beat me in a sprint. It was up to him to assume his responsibilities or not. He didn’t, that’s why our action failed. Never mind.” – Philippe Gilbert was the most hardworking of the trio, before being caught just before the line at Paris-Tours, 2007.

Australia was once again, good to Gilbert. His 2008 season kicked off with a King of the Mountains win under his belt at the Tour Down Under, as well as the general classification and 2 stages at the Vuelta a Mallorca a month later. His first podium in a monument was gained with his 3rd place at Milan-San Remo, behind Pozzato (Liquigas) and winner Cancellara (Team CSC). Another win at Omloop Het Volk was added to his ever-growing palmarès, with an impressive ride from Gilbert seeing him launch a solo attack on the Eikenberg with 50km to go.

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Photo: Getty Images. Gilbert winning Omloop Het Volk after a 50km solo attack.

While a disjointed trio caused the loss of Gilbert’s Paris-Tours hopes the year prior, he had extra added incentive to win this year. He told then-boss Madiot he wouldn’t finish the season before giving him a reward, as the Belgian revealed he would be leaving for Silence-Lotto for the next season. Bridging up to the lead group containing riders such as fellow teammate Delage, Kuckx (Landbouwkrediet) and Turgot (Bouygues), Delage worked as a lead-out man for Gilbert, who raised his arms as he crossed the line in first, with the peloton finishing just 4 seconds behind.

2009 was a new era for Philippe Gilbert, who joined Silence-Lotto as their Classics leader. He wasted no time in cementing his place at his new team, as in April he placed 3rd at the Tour of Flanders behind winner Devolder (Quick-Step) and Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam). That same month he finished 4th in both the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. 2009 marked Gilbert’s presence in Grand Tours, where he distanced Popovych (Astana) then Voelcker (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) to take the win on stage 20 at the Giro d’Italia. While Silence-Lotto faced criticism for their lack of wins at the start of the season, they silenced these critics with a formidable 5 wins in 3 weeks around October, with 4 consecutive wins for Gilbert arriving within 10 days of each other. Teammate Evans won the World Championship, while Gilbert repeated his Paris-Tours win, as well as placing first at the Coppa Sabatini, Giro del Piemonte and Giro di Lombardia. He was given the 2009 Flandrien of the Year award at the end of the season, and would repeat this feat in 2010 and 2011.

“Certainly there will be more pressure from the media and fans, but it is not a problem because I know the quality of my work and it will bring wins.” – Philippe Gilbert after winning Giro di Lombardia.

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Photo: Belga. Gilbert winning Flandrien of the Year in 2010.

The eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in April 2010 caused interruptions to many travellers in the form of grounded flights by ash cloud, some of which were professional cyclists due to participate in the Amstel Gold Race. While helicopters received special permission from the Dutch transportation minister to produce live images, the team Caisse d’Epargne had to receive special permission from the UCI to race – as only 3 riders had managed to travel. In the end, a 2 second victory over Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) awaited Gilbert, while a strong breakaway with the likes of RadioShack and Cofidis at the Tour of Belgium a month later saw him take his first win that season on home ground, as well as the sprint classification.

The Vuelta a España. The final Grand Tour of the year, with the 2010 edition starting with a team time trial in Seville. Prior to this, Gilbert only held one win in a Grand Tour – the Giro d’Italia the year prior. A mountain stage win on the 3rd day launched Gilbert to the top of the GC standings and the points classification, yet while he’d lost them both by the time the peloton started stage 19, he hadn’t lost his hunger to win again. A quiet start turned into a dramatic finish, Gilbert accelerating from the already racing peloton to just take the win from Farrar (Garmin-Transitions). While repeating his wins in the Giro del Piemonte and Giro di Lombardia, it was the latter that proved the most dramatic. Rain and leaves covering the descent of the newly added climb, the Colma di Sormano, caused Nibali (Liquigas) to crash, with Gilbert accelerating to avoid him bridging, before accelerating once more to drop Scarponi (Giocattoli) to retain his Lombardy title.

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Photo: SteepHill.tv.

“Today was a really, really hard day. It was cold and there was a lot of rain. It was a tough race but I always go pretty well with the wet and cold. I’m from Belgium, I’m used to it.” – Gilbert in the Giro di Lombardia post-race press conference.

Unstoppable.

adjective. 

[impossible to stop or prevent.]

Philippe Gilbert was truly unstoppable in 2011. His greatest season to date, the Belgian racked up an total of 18 victories in the season, topping the UCI World Tour ranking with no doubt, helping Omega Pharma-Lotto claim the team classification – as well as completing his Grand Tour collection of wins at the Tour de France, becoming undisputed Ardennes King and wiping the floor at the Nationals.

A pre-planned attack in the final kilometre put the peloton on the back foot at the Vuelta ao Algarve, as Gilbert claimed his first win of the season. Wins at Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico followed in March, while April was one of the most impressive months for a cyclist – ever. As in 2009, where Gilbert found himself taking 4 wins in 10 days, he repeated this feat in 2011, earlier in the season – winning Brabantse Piji and all 3 Ardennes classics: Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

While Leopard Trek’s hopeful race winning move came from the penultimate climb of the Keutenberg with Schleck, Omega and Gilbert’s decisive move on the final climb of the Cauberg saw him make sure his Amstel Gold Race win was retained, ahead of Rodriquez (Katusha) – who also lost an uphill finish to Gilbert at the Vuelta in 2010 on stage 3.

“I thought he was loco or super strong. I thought it was possible to beat him by attacking from far out. He turned out not to be mad but super strong. The way he accelerated… super. Super-Gilbert.” – Joaquim Rodríguez.

 “I wanted to win, I didn’t want to finish second or third, so that’s why I tried something. I’m not going to beat Philippe Gilbert in the sprint on this finish. So that’s why I put everything on one card.” Schleck said after the race. The youngest of the Schleck brothers (his older brother Frank was also a cyclist for Trek Leopard at the time), Andy then went on to finish 3rd at Liège that year, before Frank joined him on the Tour de France podium in July. They were the first siblings ever to make the podium in the entire history of the Tour.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” must have been the motto for Gilbert at La Flèche-Wallonne, who attacked on the final climb, as he did in Amstel 3 days prior to take the win. Gilbert took advantage of a badly placed Contador and Rodriquez, before waving his hand to generate more volume from the already-cheering crowd, crossing the line.

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Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images Europe.

“Liege-Bastogne-Liege is my home race and along with Lombardy it’s the best race in the world for me, so I want to win it. I lost it this year because the finale was very difficult but next year I’ll be even more motivated.” – Gilbert the year prior, after the 2010 Giro di Lombardia.

Motivated he was. In the most decorated season of his career so far, fresh from winning Amstel Gold and Flèche, Gilbert was determined. Finishing 3rd in Liège the year prior, he spoke of his determination to win Liège just months later after finishing Lombardia. Gilbert and the Schleck brothers distanced the peloton with over 30km to go, and the fierce sprint for the line saw a podium of Gilbert, Fränk then Andy. The Boar of the Ardennes had taken all 3.

The Portuguese long-distance runner and Olympic gold medallist Carlos Lopes once said: “Second place is not a defeat. It is a stimulation to get better. It makes you more determined.” After finishing 2nd in the 2006, 2009 and 2010 Belgian National Road Race Championships, and having a sensational season so far, Philippe was a marked man. An uphill finish saw him distance Meersman and Wallays by 2 seconds, giving him time to celebrate with a raised arm. Did he finish there? No. After finishing 2nd in the 2007 National Time Trial Championships, he beat Hermans by 10 seconds to take yet another black, yellow and red jersey.

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Photo: Ispaphoto.com

After his success at the National Road Race, Gilbert stated “I am proud to have this jersey”, but that he would like to exchange it for the yellow jersey at the beginning of the Tour de France. With his success rate so far – it was highly likely he would… which he did. In fact, he was so confident, he dyed his hair blonde beforehand and had a yellow watch in his bag in order to match the yellow jersey. Avoiding being held up by 2 crashes in the last 10km – one of which involved Iglinskiy riding into a spectator – Gilbert surged for the slight uphill finish, ahead of Evans (BMC) and Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo) – he would wear the yellow jersey at last.

Another uphill finish in September, this time at the Grand Prix de Wallonie, saw the last win of Gilbert’s 2011 season – win number 18. The Velo d’Or award was awarded to him in October, beating competition from Tour de France winner Evans (BMC) and world champion Cavendish (T-Mobile).

[AWAY FROM CYCLING]:

In late 2011, Gilbert joined Peace and Sport, committed to serving world peace. The 8th edition of the international forum saw Chris Froome join him and other athletes on a Peace and Sport walk in Monaco, discussing “what sport can offer in the face of new threats to peace.” (CyclingNews).

“Peace and Sport brings together a team of “Champions for Peace”, top-level sports champions who are either still active or have retired from their sports career who wish to help disadvantaged communities through sport. They are role models, heroes and a source of inspiration for young people throughout the world” 

BMC beckoned Philippe Gilbert in 2012, with the aim of spring classics as well as helping Evans retain his Tour de France title. The man who won all 3 Ardennes in 2011 however, could only place 6th in Amstel Gold, 3rd in La Flèche Wallonne and 16th in Liège. The Tour de France went to Wiggins (Sky), with teammate Froome in 2nd, with Evans finishing 7th behind teammate Van Gerderen in 5th. The loss of both his National Championships awaited him in August, yet so did the Vuelta. Despite not having a win yet in 2012, he broke away and stayed away with Rodríquez to take the win on stage 9, then beat Valverde to the line on stage 19.

Despite a somewhat quiet season in comparison to his dominating 2011, Gilbert couldn’t have asked for a better finish at the World Championships. Launching his attack on the final ascent of the Cauberg – a climb featured in the Amstel Gold Race which he attacked off and won in 2011 – he never faltered and took the rainbow jersey. The Italians struggled on the Cauberg, while the prominent Spanish team left with Valverde only finishing 3rd, with Norway’s Boasson Hagen finishing 2nd.

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Source: OASport.it. Gilbert distances Boassen Hagen and Valverde.

His year in the rainbow stripes began with a 2nd place behind Sagan (Cannondale) at Brabantse Pijl, as well as a 5th place finish in Amstel Gold. The 99th edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège culminated in an attack by Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) to overtake Rodríguez and win, with Gilbert finishing 7th in the same group as Costa (Movistar) and Gerrans (GreenEDGE). The Tour of Belgium in May provided Gilbert with a toughly fought 3rd place, only 5 seconds behind winner Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).

Once again the Vuelta provided Gilbert with a Grand Tour win, and once again Boasson Hagen (Sky) found himself in 2nd behind him. Despite the Norwegian looking as if he’d already had the stage wrapped up, Gilbert never relented and passed him metres before the line.

First win in Rainbows

Photo: AFP.

Back to business in the 2014 spring, the Belgian won on home soil once again at Brabantse Pijl, in a fierce bunch sprint to beat Matthews (GreenEDGE) and Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol).

“This was a particularly emotional win for me. My wife and my kids were here for the first time in two years. So to have won will be something they will never forget. I have been dreaming of this…” – Gilbert after winning his 3rd Amstel Gold Race.

A Cauberg attack and Philippe Gilbert go together like Chris Froome and a yellow jersey. Attacking at the base of the climb at the Amstel Gold Race, he left the peloton behind and the following attacks from the likes of Valverde (Movistar), Gerrans (GreenEDGE) and Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) could never bridge to him.

He took 5 wins in under a month, with the Mountains classification in the Tour de Picardie at the end of May and the Points classification in the Tour of Belgium. In addition, Philippe won the prologue, stage 4 and overall of Ster ZLM Toer in June – for the 3rd time in his career after winning in 2009 and 2011 also. A stage 2 win and the overall at the Tour of Beijing wrapped up the Belgian’s 2014 season.

“Three times I have won the race in the same way: by winning the queen stage in the Ardennes and then controlling the last day. So to do it three times with the same scenario makes it a pretty special victory.” Philippe Gilbert after the Ster ZLM Toer.

While recent Tour success mainly derived from the Vuelta, stage 12 at the Giro d’Italia in 2015 was built for Classics specialists with a short uphill finish. Up stepped Philippe Gilbert: who took the win ahead of Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). An attack 19km out on stage 18 with no rider able to keep up with his pace secured his second stage win at the Grand Tour.

“I’m not interested in second place, third place or fourth place. That’s losing. For me it’s all about winning. Maybe in 10 years time I’ll look back and I’ll count the times I was on the podium in a big race. But at the moment I don’t care about them. I just ride to win. Of course I try to do my best and take second if I can’t win. But first of all I try to win. That’s how I try to ride a race.” – Philippe Gilbert, CyclingNews.

While 2012 saw Gilbert pass both his National Championships jerseys over, and miss the start line in 2015, he was back for the win in 2016. A man not interested in any podium place except the top spot, the Belgian was gunning for his 2nd National title, 5 years after securing his first. An combined Gilbert/Wellens (Lotto-Soudal)/de Plus(Lotto-Soudal U23) attack from 50km out to catch then drop de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and eventually distance de Plus saw the two leaders develop a lead which led to the ability for a tactical sprint. Compared to the likes of track sprints, the two road cyclists tried to force the other to the front – with a big enough gap to the chasers that meant Gilbert and Wellens could almost stop cycling entirely to push the other to go first. The two were weaving across the road, Gilbert constantly looking behind to see Wellens attached to his wheel. Fully committing himself with 100m to go, Gilbert had enough distance over Wellens to raise his hands in the air as he crossed the line.

Gilbert gaining his 2nd National Championship jersey was the 4th of the year for Team BMC. Australian Rohan Dennis won their time trial, as did Taylor Phinney of USA, along with the Italian Manuel Quinziato. No wonder BMC were time trial extraordinaires, winning the TTT at both Tirreno-Adriatico and the Eneco Tour and numerous team classifications.

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Photo: CorVos.

2017 – a new season and a new team for Philippe Gilbert on a one-year contact. Now riding for Quick-Step Floors (still with no sponsorship for 2018), he finds himself riding alongside fellow Belgian classics specialist Boonen, as well as Sprint King Kittel, Alaphilippe (rider review here), and Gaviria – who beat then-world champion Cavendish in two sprint stages at the 2015 Tour de San Luis.

His season has been impressive so far, with a 2nd place at E3 Harelbeke yet most impressively – his 55km solo break and win at the Tour of Flanders. Gilbert isn’t a stranger to attacking from 50km out and winning, from his 2008 Omloop Het Volk win as well as his Nationals win in 2016.  At the 2017 Tour of Flanders, he launched his attack at the Oude Kwaremont ascent and never looked back, with enough of a gap to carry his bike over the line above his head. De Ronde? Destroyed.

Not stopping there, the Boar of the Ardennes found himself in a break alongside 2017 Milan-San Remo winner Kwiatkowski (Sky) at 2017 Amstel Gold. Both winners of the race – Gilbert in 2010, 2011 and 2014, with Kwiatkowski’s win in 2015, could the Belgian make it 4?

Of course. While Kwiatkowski launched his sprint early, a headwind worked to his disadvantage, and the Belgian closed the slight gap to launch himself round, taking the win. Yet unknown until after the end of the race – Gilbert had a tear in his kidney from an earlier crash and had rode 130km to take the win despite this.

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Photo: SBS.com

Philippe is unfortunately now ruled out of the rest of the Ardennes classics, with Alaphilippe missing Liège-Bastogne-Liège with a knee injury. Yet with the form Gilbert is on – can he be riding himself into a contract for next year? Hopefully. One more year of uninjured Philippe Gilbert – or as many more as he feels fit – would be exciting to watch.

“The thing that I hate the most in cycling is giving up.” – Philippe Gilbert, taken from PodiumCafe.com

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Paris-Roubaix: 2017

“Paris-Roubaix is the last test of madness that the sport of cycling puts before its participants…. A hardship approaching the threshold of cruelty.” – Jacques Goddet, former Race Director.

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The 115th Paris-Roubaix wrote its way into the history books in unforgettable style, with the fastest edition of the Monument yet, culminating in a five-man sprint won by Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) with an average speed of 45.2 kilometres per hour – the delayed start due to a three-quarter tail wind not slowing them down.

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Photo: ASO/P. Ballet.

The majority of the fanfare before, during and after the 257.5km Queens of the Classics went in the direction of Tom Boonen (Quick-Step), who placed 13th in his final race before his retirement. The Belgian announced his plans to hang up his cycling shoes in July last year, but pencilled a new contract that would take him to the finish of the 2017 Roubaix. With his last race on his home soil of Belgium just 4 days’ prior with Scheldeprijs, Boonen had been receiving ample attention recently from fans, media and various professional cyclists acknowledging his large career. He was aiming for a 5th Roubaix win, but this dream was not to be. Hindered by a lack of support with injured teammates, Terpstra crashing and abandoning with 115km to go and Declercq later reported as abandoned, and missing an important split caused by Trek, Quick-Step then relied on the experience of Štybar, 2nd placed in the 2015 edition of Roubaix.

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Source: CyclingTips.

“It was only at the 5km to go mark that I began thinking, ‘these are the last kilometres of my career’”. – Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors).

The first break of the day took a while to construct, and by the first hour in the saddle many riders had tried and failed to go clear of the speeding peloton. Eventually Martinez (Delko Marseille) and Wallays (Lotto Soudal), found themselves clear alongside Belgian Delage (FDJ) before the first cobbled sector at Troisville. They could never establish enough of a distance to impact the race however, and were reeled in. Many of the ‘smaller’ teams found themselves fighting at the front for sponsor airtime. Speaking of which, despite Boonen being a prominent name in Roubaix, and the recent success of Gilbert at the Tour of Flanders, Quick-Step Floors sponsorship is still set to finish at the end of the year – with no sponsors signed on for 2018. However, their manager Patrick Lefevere is sure the team will be in the peloton next year.

“Nothing is certain… I have always planned for the worst case scenario. My deadline is June 30 and I will honour that. The talks are going in the right direction. The team will be in the peloton at the start of 2018.”

While the “Hell of the North” is frequently used to discuss Paris-Roubaix, with its iconic unsmooth road surfaces and cobblestones truly a hell for riders, it did not earn this name from the beginning of its induction in 1896 – when most roads were derived of cobblestone. L’enfer du Nord was derived from the impact of the First World War, with the majority of Northern France ravaged in 1919.

To describe it as “hell” was the only word. The little party had seen the hell of the north – in this particular case, the French administrative region of the North in which Roubaix stands. And that’s how they reported it in their papers next day. But hell was the post-war condition, not the state of the roads. Nobody thought the roads were hellish because that’s just how roads were. But come 1944 and liberation from the second world war, recovery brought better, smoother and straighter roads. And something curious happened. Just as in the Tour of Flanders, people began grew nostalgic for the bad old days. What was the point of Paris-Roubaix if all it had were fine, restored highways? – Taken from Autobus.CyclingNews.com, Tales of the Peloton, April 18, 2006. The Real Hell of the North.

With the year prior seeing crashes impact favourites like Cancellara (then Trek) as well as force 2 Team Sky riders to hit the ground, the 2017 edition was expected to be just as unforgiving. A high speed crash involving the likes of Naesen (AG2R) and Dougall (Dimension Data), as well as birthday boy Durbridge later (Orica) taken down. While Bewley (Orica) abandoned after giving Durbridge his bike in true teammate fashion, Naesen dusted himself off and ferociously fought back, being a looming figure at the front of the race and finishing 31st, despite a broken derailleur, a crash and four punctures. Even a 2016 3rd placed Stannard (Sky) now found himself caught out, and with a back wheel puncture he relented to stop during a cobbled section as the peloton drove forward, refusing to lose any precious time. Most significantly, Van Avermaet found himself in trouble just kilometres before the Arenberg. A replacement bike needed after a crash just before the Wallers section of cobbles, he was stranded with a minute behind him and Boonen, who was subsequently kicking up the pace at the front of the peloton. While he was shouting down the radio desperately, conveniently for BMC, Kristoff punctured. As the peloton hit the symbolic cobbled section of the Arenberg, legendary time trialist and TT World Champion Tony Martin (now Katusha from Quick-Step) took over the reins. While they reached the other end surprisingly unscathed, Kristoff and Van Avermaet were fiercely cutting the deficit, soon reattaching themselves to the main group.

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Van Avermaet on the chase before the Arenberg. Source: CyclingTips.

Trek’s tenacity on the Hornaing cobbles saw them employ all the bodies they could to break the spirit of many riders struggling. The split they created managed to catch out Boonen, who had to utilise a lot of his energy to catch up. Acting on this, Sagan (BORA) attacked with just under 80km to go alongside teammate Bodnar, BMC’s Oss and Trek’s Stuyven. While Bora’s plans were short lived – a back wheel puncture for Sagan saw both him and Bodnar stop – Oss and Stuyven carried on. Catching them were Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) and Claeys (Cofidis) and Moscon (Sky) – the latter of this trio impressing once more at Paris Roubaix.  Whilst in the 2016 edition, “Il Trattore” saw himself crash on a cobbled section in the front group, he stayed upright this year to clinch 5th in a determined show which saw many wondering just how exciting this Italian’s future will be.

Hayman’s fairy-tale story in the 2016 Roubaix was not to be repeated this year, yet Orica had found Keukeleire in contention when Hayman missed the move on Mons-en-Pévèle, but the 27 year old from Belgium found himself in trouble after crashing into nettles and puncturing on the Mérignies à Avelin section.

“I knew I needed to be at the front there and for whatever reason … Jens [Keukeleire] made it, I think there were 15 guys. For whatever reason I missed that, I had a bad patch. Jens had a bit of trouble and then we came back to Boonen’s group, but those guys [Van Avermate and Stybar] had already gone.” – Mathew Hayman, Orica Scott.

Meanwhile, Sagan was still not finished. Attacking once more, he attempted to bridge, yet another puncture saw the World Champion unfortunately silenced. Van Avermaet rode past him to join his teammate Oss, alongside Langeveld, Moscon, Roelandts, Stuyven and Štybar. Job more than done for the day, Oss started slowing as the leading group showed no sign of relenting.

With 15km until the famed Roubaix finish line inside the Vélodrome André-Pétrieux, Van Avermaet ignited on the Carrefour de l’Arbre, with Štybar (Quick-Step) and Langeveld (Cannondale) joining before breaking and staying away, with the duo Moscon (Sky) and Stuyven behind them. The favoured Belgian Boonen was once again caught at the wrong point as this split occurred, yet stayed to the fore in the group behind Moscon and Stuyven to make sure he finished his last Paris-Roubaix in 13th place. His teammate Štybar’s persistence in refusing to work on the front while Van Avermaet and Langeveld picked up the slack for him ultimately did not pay off for either teammate Boonen or himself, as despite conserving energy, the Czech finished 2nd on the velodrome once again. It was a fierce contest, with the trio playing a dangerous cat and mouse game which saw them slow so much the duo rejoined them once more. Looking for his chance and unable to allow Boonen the chance to catch up, Moscon launched his attack with Van Avermaet crucially staying in Štybar’s slipstream to launch himself over the finish line first.

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Photo: Yuzuru Sunada.

“In the end I was a bit afraid of Štybar because he wasn’t working with us. I’m really happy to have finally won a Monument because I’ve had a long wait for this. I had a bit of bad luck before the Arenberg but the team did good work. Everybody was in the right place for me and Daniel Oss did really good work and everything came together for me.” – Greg Van Avermaet after winning the 2017 Paris-Roubaix.

As quickly as the riders seemed to finish the race, Paris-Roubaix came and went, another Monument in the cycling calendar gone. With Greg Van Avermaet having a sensational season so far – winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February, E3 in March and Gent-Wevelgem just two days’ after, it is any surprise the Classics King for 2017 (so far) would snatch a Monument this year too?

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Talking Points:

  • Where would Sagan have placed if he hadn’t punctured twice?
  • If Boonen was on the right end of the split, would he have finished any higher?
  • If Kristoff didn’t need service just before the Arenberg and Martin hadn’t controlled the peloton, what would’ve happened to Van Avermat’s Roubaix hopes?
  • If Quick-Step had more riders in contention by the Hornaing cobbles, could they have challenged like Trek and split the race?
  • Where will Greg Van Avermaet go from here?

 

Rider Reviews: [1] Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors)

Name: Julian Alaphilippe

Age: 24 years’ old

Nationality: French

Most Recent Result: 3rd, Milan-San Remo (March, 2017)

Most Recent Win: Points & Young Rider classifications, Paris-Nice (March, 2017)

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“Well, what he’s done is pretty good, isn’t it?… He probably needs to develop a little bit more. He probably will, then he could be a big one.” – Brian Holm, Etixx director.

Starting in Etixx’s development team of Etixx-IHNed in 2013 (now Klein Constantia), Alaphilippe progressed from the Continental to World Tour level a year later with Omega-Pharma Quick Step (now Quick-Step Floors). He quickly became a home favourite as one the next generation of French cyclists alongside the likes of Bardet and Pinot, after the success of Rolland and the nationalism derived by the Tour de France giving the French more of a craving for representation at World Tour level.

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Alaphilippe at the Tour de l’Avenir, 2013. Photo: Getty Images Sport.

His performance in the 2013 Tour de l’Avenir truly marked him as one for the future, with his securing of the points classification and win on stage 7. Attacking with fellow Frenchman Gougeard (now at AG2R) at the base of the final climb, they caught the leading trio, and Alaphilippe set the pace so high he distanced them all, crossing the line for his most important stage win of the year. He also impressed at the Tour de Bretagne, finishing 5th overall and winning stage 4, a sprint for the line with riders such as Renault (Sojasun) and Alafaci (Leopard-Trek Continental Team), punching the air as he crossed the line. Catching the attention of Quick-Step, he deservedly progressed to World Tour level where he gained his first podium at the 2014 Volta a Catalunya, on the first stage. He obtained his first win from the Tour de l’Ain, winning an uphill finish against Dan Martin (Slipstream-Chipotle, now Cannondale), while teammate Verona finished 3rd.

“It’s a kind of dream to win in France as a French rider. It gives me an explosion of joy, this victory. At 3 kilometers to go, at the top of the small climb, I attacked and I went full gas. In the end, I won. Also, with this victory I took the jersey as best young rider and the points jersey from the shoulders of Gianni Meersman. So, I kept the points jersey in the team and that gives me satisfaction.” Alaphilippe after winning stage 4 of the Tour de l’Ain.

2015 saw Alaphilippe’s development reach new heights, with his breakthrough year being his second year at World Tour level with Quick-Step. He did not disappoint, and the 22-year-old impressed at the Amstel Gold race. When Samuel Sánchez attacked at the base of the Cauberg in 2014, his teammate Gilbert produced a secondary attack that took the race win. Channeling this the year later in 2015, Hermans (BMC) launched his scathing charge on the Cauberg, and blew the race apart for Gilbert (BMC) to then launch his attack which only a select few could follow. While in the moment, only Matthews (Orica) could stick to his wheel, the duo could not distance and with 1km to go, a select bunch were in contention. Alongside Alpahilippe was his then-teammate, World Champion Kwiatkowski, Valverde (Movistar), Van Avermaet (BMC) and Rui Costa (Lampre). Alaphilippe finished 7th while his teammate Kwiatkowski won.

Alaphilippe truly proved he was a force to be reckoned with at La Flèche Wallonne only 3 days later. When Wellens (BMC) was devastatingly caught with 1km to go on the Muur, Kwiatkowski was not to be seen, struggling on the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. Yet when Quick-Step’s directeur sportif commanded “Go! Go!” through the radio, Alaphilippe launched his sprint on Valverde’s wheel, with Albasini (Orica) also in the mix. The win was not to be, but a more than impressive 2nd place to add to his palmarès was welcomed by both Julian, and the team. Déjà vu occurred just 4 days later at Liège–Bastogne–Liège, with April providing Alaphilippe with one of the most career defining months of his life so far. Valverde again took the win, and this time Alaphilippe was 2nd behind him once more, his form showing. He was originally in the group including Visconti (Movistar) and Costa (Lampre) who were chasing down Kreuziger (Tinkoff), Fuglsang (Astana) and Caruso (Katusha). In the final kilometers, Moreno (Katusha) attempted to break away yet could not, and as Valverde won, Rodríguez slowed and Alaphillipe rode past him to take second once again, the best position for a French rider since Jalabert in 1998. His hunger showed, as he was clearly angry at only finishing 2nd on the finish line, waving his arm in frustration.

“I really felt I could have done something more” – Alaphilippe after finishing 2nd at Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

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Alaphilippe expressing his anger at finishing 2nd. Photo: JB/PN/Cor Vos.

May brought another 2nd place for Alaphilippe, this time in the Tour of California. He went one step higher on stage 7, winning the queen stage, tackling two Category 2 mountains and a Hors Category. Following Sergio Henao’s (Sky) attack which Sagan (Tinkoff) could not keep up with, he dropped Henao to win on Mount Baldy in dramatic conditions involving bad road surfaces and snow covering the sides of the road. Despite holding the general classification after this stage, he lost to Sagan by 3 seconds, as a perfectly timed bike throw from the Tinkoff rider gave him 3rd place on the last stage by inches, with the closest winning margin in the Tour’s history, yet Alaphilippe won the white jersey after holding it from stage 3 to the finish on stage 8. In June he finished 5th at the National Road Race Championships behind winner Tronet, Gallopin, Chavanel and Barguil.

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Photo: Greg K Hull. Chasing Light Media.

Towards the end of the season, he finished 8th in the clásica de San Sebastián, and 10th at the Eneco Tour, yet following a DNF in the Road World Championships, it was revealed Alaphilippe had been diagnosed with mononucleosis, ending his 2015 season.

2016 saw the return of Alaphilippe’s form, and the return of his 2nd place behind Valverde at La Flèche Wallonne in April. The month after saw one of his most impressive wins to date, finishing 21 seconds in front of Rohan Dennis (BMC) to take the overall win at the Tour of California and his stage 3 win saw him finish first on a mountain stage ahead of the likes of Ten Dam (Giant), Dennis, Sanchez (BMC) and Talansky (Cannondale). Just like in 2015 at Mount Baldy, this win cast him into the lead, yet in the 2016 edition he pulled off a large acceleration to catch, then pass Stetina (Trek). Stetina was seemingly edging closer to his first win after comeback from injury, he had crashed into a metal pole at the Tour of the Basque Country in April 2015, breaking numerous ribs and his knee cap. Yet this would not come today, as the Frenchman accelerated again to cross the line ahead of him.

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Photo: AFP.

“When we came here, on the first day, I said [Alaphilippe] is going to win California. He has had good results in other races, and everybody knew he was strong for this race.” – Peter Sagan on Julian Alaphilippe.

After successfully gaining another youth classification win to add to his ever growing list, this time at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Alaphilippe crossed the line in 5th at the National Road Race Championships. His success for France didn’t stop there, as Julian was also just beaten to the line by Sagan at the European Road Championships. He was looking incredibly likely to medal in the crash-filled Olympic Road Race at Rio, yet an unlucky timed crash on his descent of the Vista Chinesa prevented him from joining the attack from Van Avermaet and Fuglsang to bridge to then-leader Majka, and Alaphilippe crossed the line in 4th, just 22 seconds down on Avermaet. It’s interesting to think of his positioning possibilities, as Majka was surely weakened by leading on his own, and the hard work put in to chase by Avermaet and Fuglsang would’ve been divided by 3 if equal turns were taken, conserving energy. Yet we must look to the 2020 Games in Tokyo to see Alaphilippe’s Olympic medaling chances.

“It had to be a tactical win especially against Alaphilippe who is impossible to follow on a short uphill” – Vichot on Alaphilippe’s uphill advantages at the National Championships.

 “I wasn’t going to chase my team-mate and I couldn’t take the risk of bringing Alaphilippe to the line. I wasn’t 100% sure of beating him.” – Dumoulin on the risk of sprinting against Alaphilippe at the National Championships.

One of Alaphilippe’s many stand out performances in 2016 derived from his attacking in the Tour de France. Most prominently, his 4-hour breakaway. But first, his stage 13 time-trial – one of the most memorable moments for Tour de France viewers. An unexpected gust of wind blew the Quick-Step rider completely off course and into a jagged mountainside on the left of the road after going over 32 miles per hour. Surprisingly, he was left relatively unscathed and carried on regardless.

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Alaphilippe crashing at the Tour de France. Source: Twitter.com, HistoryOnSepia.

Stage 15 was described by many as the hardest stage of the Tour, and it was Alaphilippe’s to lose, being the apparent strongest out of the quartet involving Pantano (IAM), Majka (Tinkoff) and Zakarin (Katusha). Just before the final climb of Lacets du Colombier, a mechanical he suffered caused a crash, and lose the stage he did. This didn’t dampen his fighting spirit however, as the next day he was more prepared for a challenge than ever. Who better to spend 4 long hours in the saddle, off the front with, then the Panzerwagen himself: Tony Martin? Teammates at the time (now Martin has found himself at Katusha), the stage after Alaphilippe saw his Tour de France stage win hopes disappear, the duo attacked in the first 15km and weren’t caught until 145km later. Both riders gained the combativity award that day, and Julian had nothing but praise for his Etixx teammate. This wasn’t the younger of the pair’s first taste of success at the Tour either, he had been leading the youth classification and wearing the maillot blanc from stages 2 to 6. Alaphilippe’s successful season ended with a 10th place at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal in September.

I suffered a lot after yesterday’s stage, and I suffered a lot in his wheel today. I don’t know how he’s that strong but these kind of days are enriching for me, and chapeau to him.” – Julian Alaphilippe on teammate Tony Martin.

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Picture: Mantey Stephane/L’Equipe.

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Source: Twitter.com

His 2017 season has begun in fine form, gaining another young rider classification win at the Abu Dhabi Tour, as well as a top 5 placing. A hotly contested Paris-Nice (which saw Sky’s Sergio Henao win by 2 seconds from Contador, Trek) saw Alaphilippe lead for 3 days before unfortunately cracking on the penultimate stage, yet ultimately finishing 5th. He held four top-5 finishes, helped Quick-Step win the team classification and won yet another young rider classification with the points classification his also. He impressed with his stage 4 win, a 14.5km time trial – his first win in this discipline. 2017’s Paris-Nice was definitely one of the highlights of Alaphilippe’s cycling career so far.

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Photos: Christophe Ena/AP, Getty Images Sport.

After Sagan’s attack on the Poggio at Milan-San Remo shook the race up, dropped favourites and left teams improvising, Alaphilippe and Kwiatkowski (now Sky) were the only ones to follow. A fierce sprint could not have brought the riders closer, and Kwiatkowski took the win, with Alaphilippe just in 3rd.

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Photo: Cor Vos, LaPresse – D’Alberto/Ferrari.

It’s no secret Julian Alaphilippe truly is a remarkable rider, yet what makes him an even more exciting prospect is the fact he is only 24. His palmarès are indeed something to brag about, but this Quick-Step rider shows no doing of that. This cyclist is only going to get better, and this will be exciting to watch – not only for the French, but cycling fans alike.

Ronde van Vlaanderen: 2017

 “I will remember every second”Philippe Gilbert, Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 winner.

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The 101st edition of the Tour of Flanders, Ronde van Vlaanderen, De Ronde, or simply “Vlaanderens Mooiste” (Flanders’ Finest) truly produced one of the finest cycling races this season.

Flanders was Etixx’s race to lose, with their three-prong style attack providing them with 2 of the podium places at the end of the day, with only Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) separating them. Philippe Gilbert stood atop the podium, his impressive solo ride from 55km from the ascent of the Kwaremont, while the looming figures including Sagan (BORA) and Van Avermaet chased him down. A crash at 17km to go impeded any chance they had of catching him, and were only seen in the distance as Gilbert walked over the line, bike in the air, smile on his face. But where were the other favourites? How could one rider be left on his own for 55km during De Ronde?

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Source: Cycling Weekly.

The Muur

“It all started on the Muur. I was riding on Tom Boonen’s wheel and it went on from there.” – Philippe Gilbert.

After 5 long years, the Muur returned. Not in its usual, towards the end of race position, when riders are tested once again, line almost in sight, as they brave the [Flemish] “wall”, but 100km from the finish. While Cancellara attacked him on the climb in 2010 to take the win, the 2017 edition saw Boonen upping the tempo as he led the peloton over the top while teammates Gilbert and Trentin followed. A large majority of the peloton were caught out by this attack, but with the Etixx men were riders the likes of Vanmarcke (Cannondale), Rowe, Moscon (Sky) and Kristoff (Katusha). However, with 50km to the finish, Vanmarcke appeared to ride over a seam in the concrete on the road, crashing and taking down Rowe with him.

Oude Kwaremont

Philippe Gilbert launched his winning attack with 55km to go, on the ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, leaving the rest of the chasers far behind, with Sagan and Van Avermaet catching up to his teammate Boonen. What happened to Boonen? His chain slipped at the bottom of the Taaienberg climb, and his second chain on his second bike slipped moments after. When Boonen managed to gain Terpstra’s bike, this was too small, and his Flanders chances were over.

“At the end of the cobbles [Paterberg], I looked back and saw that I had a big gap. I called back to the team car, and they just said to keep going. I was worried because it was still a long way to go.” – Philippe Gilbert.

Trio’s Tumble

The last 10km of De Ronde were quite possibly some of the longest in Philippe Gilbert’s life. The trio of Sagan, the World Champion, and Van Avermaet, 2017 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Gent–Wevelgem and E3 Harelbeke winner, as well as Naesen, 3rd placed in E3 Harelbeke the same year, were closing in behind him. It was stated that as long as Gilbert had a minute on the trio by the time they hit the last climb of Kwaremont with 17km to go, Gilbert would be very likely to win. He had exactly a minute, but disaster struck for the chasers. Sagan chose to ride to the side of the road with Van Avermaet and Naesen in tow, but he has since stated it was the jacket on the side of the barrier that brought him down. The three crashed while Cannondale’s Dylan van Baarle rode past on the other side, eventually finishing in 4th.

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Source: Cycling Weekly.

The 101st edition of the Tour of Flanders had perhaps, one of the most dramatic, eyes-glued-to-the-TV wins produced. While it can be easy to dwell on the “what ifs?”, (what if Vanmarcke attacked with Gilbert on the Kwaremont? What if Vanmarcke didn’t crash, not taking out himself and Rowe? What if Van Avermaet was further up the road when Boonen lit up the race on the Muur? What if Sagan, Van Avermaet and Naesen didn’t crash?), it is impossible to take this well-deserved win from Philippe Gilbert. After all, who else would brave an attack in De Ronde with 55km to go? With no mechanical, no crash and no bad weather impeding him, the 101st Tour of Flanders is Gilbert’s.

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Source: TDWSports.com.