The Sagan Show’s Saving Cycling… At Just The Right Time

“I don’t care if he wins the green jersey another five times. He’s definitely the best guy out there, he can win on every parcours. He’s good for our sport because he attracts people from outside cycling. You like it or you don’t. I think he’s just cool. Other riders say they don’t have time for such fun, but he just does it.” – Bernie Eisel of Dimension Data, teammate of one of Sagan’s biggest competitors in the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish.

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Unsurprisingly, the Sagan we’ve come to know and love (Cavendish maybe excluded) was always some form of character in cycling. Starting at age 9, he would frequently race in tennis shoes and t-shirts. At the Slovak Cup as a junior, after selling his bike and not getting another from his sponsor in time, he had to borrow his sister’s to race on. He won. After winning the Mountain Bike Junior World Championship in 2008, he joined Quick-Step for road testing in 2009 but failed to gain a contract. Temporarily quitting road cycling until his parents convinced him to start again, he would go on to become one of the greatest cyclists of the modern era. Here’s why we should be thankful he did, and how he’s helping save a sport almost ruined by its past…

Blunder Turned Thunder at the Tour Down Under

His first Pro Tour race could’ve started better, as the young rider was involved in a crash on the second stage in Australia. However, showing true determination at just 19-years-old, he carried on with 17 stitches in his arm and thigh – to attack on the Willunga queen stage just 3 days later. Alongside Cadel Evans, Luis León Sánchez and Alejandro Valverde, they broke away to contest the win, with Sagan finishing just 6 seconds behind winner Sánchez.

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Photo: Kei Tsuji

His… Unique Celebrations

It only took 2 days at the 2012 Tour de France for Sagan to claim his first stage win, and in true Sagan fashion, he celebrated rather interestingly. Beating prologue winner and yellow jersey wearer Cancellara to the line, he pulled some form of chicken dance after the finish. He topped this just two days later, after winning stage 3 and demonstrating his Forrest Gump inspired celebration.

The other evening my teammates and I decided that if I won again, I’d do it like Forrest Gump: when they told him to run, he ran; when they tell me to win, I win. I like doing something that makes people smile. When I watch sport on the TV, I’ve always liked it when someone adds a touch of fun to their victories, like Valentino Rossi does. Now that I’m winning, I try to do the same thing.

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Source: cyclingweekly.com

Not a stage win celebration, but it was at the fourth stage of the Tour de France in 2015 that after an intermediate sprint, Sagan joked to Greipel, Degenkolb, Rolland and Cavendish to form a breakaway. Degenkolb laughed as Greipel eventually caught on, with Rolland behind missing the joke completely and Cavendish not looking at Sagan while the peloton caught up with them.

Peter’s partial to a wheelie, too. Pulling one while grabbing some cookies at the Tour of California, or no handed in the world champion jersey while training. Most impressively, no handed while climbing up Alpe d’Huez in 2013. What can he not do?

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Gunning for Green

It seems like only a (right or wrong?) jury decision to take Sagan out of the Tour de France will stop him from obtaining yet another points classification jersey. He started strong back in 2012, winning a bet with the Liquigas management that he’d win two stages and the green jersey. He won the jersey, 3 stages and a Porsche. His 2013 victory in the points classification at the 100th Tour was certainly one of the most memorable – turning up next to an unsuspecting yellow jersey-donned Froome on stage 21 with a green beard and afro was a sight to behold.

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Source: dailymail.co.uk

If that wasn’t enough, here’s Sagan getting hands-on with a teammate.

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Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Despite being keen for green, the world champion Sagan’s stage 2 win of the 2016 Tour saw him put on the yellow jersey for the first time in his career. Instead of showing off some new celebration, Sagan used his time in the yellow jersey spotlight to tell fellow riders his displeasure at their risk-taking and called for respect in the peloton.

Everyone rides as if they don’t care about life… in this moment I’m not an important rider in peloton [to change things]. Nobody cares. It’s as if they lost their brains. I don’t know what has happened.

With his prominence in the points classification, the 4-time winner was surely a shoe-in to win in 2017? This year, the Tour de France took a different turn. Initially it was a close shave for a stage win; Sagan at first thought he attacked too early on stage 3, and went on to unclip as he started to sprint. But that’s right – he unclipped and still won a sprint.

“I decided to go, I guess it was too early – it was 400m to go. It was far away, in the moment, I said ‘f–k, again too early’. Then I started my sprint, and as I pushed – I pulled my feet out from the cleat. It was another mistake, I was like, ‘what is happening today?’”

Unfortunately for Sagan, that’s where his Tour success ended. Stage 4 ended in a sprint finish, but a messy one at that. Originally with the helicopter shot, it was thought Sagan elbowed Cavendish into the barrier, causing him to crash. Yet the head-on angle conveyed the fact that Sagan’s elbow came out after Cavendish was already falling and unclipping. Surely a penalty of relegation on the stage and points taken off would be enough?

Not for Dimension Data. Despite messy sprinting and crashes being part and parcel of cycling… (Cavendish and Gerrans, 2012? Cavendish and Veelers 2013? Cavendish and Viviani 2016?) the jury decided Sagan was to be thrown out of the Tour de France. So, right or wrong decision? It seems cycling fans are split.

“Take your time and watch the replay in slow-motion. Then forget about Peter and Cav. Focus on Demarre. [sic] He is the first to change trajectory. So when we start punish people- maybe consider him first. His move almost crashed Bouhanni, he is trying to save himself and moves Sagan. 

“Then Sagan moves over to the right and there is no space for nobody left. Its either be safe and break and lose, or maybe win or crash.

“So in my private opinion-the disqualification is too much. I am ok with -80 points in green jersey, last place [for the stage] and a time-penalty for Sagan.” – Jens Voigt.

Fighting Alongside Froome

To many people after the prominent figure of Bradley Wiggins as Team Sky’s once-leading cyclist, Froome appeared more reserved, more calm – seemingly the opposite of the extremely outgoing Slovakian? Yet Sagan is a personality in cycling that appears to appeal to the masses, and the two have shared a lot together in cycling. Podiums at the Tour de France, fun interview moments and breakaways on sprint stages.

In 2015, the pair were on the podium together in Paris, alongside white jersey winner Nairo Quintana. Sagan had some fun on the stage, pretending his trophy was a machine gun and bowing to the pair. Froome laughed, poor Quintana wasn’t exactly too sure what was going on.

It took many by surprise when, on a windy sprint stage 11 of the Tour de France in 2016, the unlikely pair suddenly attacked and worked together with 10km to go alongside teammates Thomas (Sky) and Bodnar (Tinkoff). By the time sprint trains had tried to organise themselves better and catch the quartet, Sagan had already won the stage while Froome placed 2nd, gaining valuable bonus seconds over his GC rivals.

He also likes to ‘video-bomb’ interviews. Whether it’s appearing over Nibali’s shoulder and nodding to everything he says, finishing an interview with Laura Meseguer then abruptly resting his chin on Greipel’s shoulder, walking over to Froome mid-interview just to put his arm around his shoulder, or interrupting another Froome interview just to say “Froomey! How are you?”, he does it all. When Froome replied “what happened, you didn’t win today man?”, the pair laughed as Sagan would channel Kellan Froome 2 years later, and try to steal Froome’s hat. (Chris’s son would succeed, however.)

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At Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, he bluntly told a reporter that it’s just “normal for people to go to the toilet”, before an interesting interview alongside Sep Vanmarcke. Beginning in typical Sagan show stealing fashion, he lowered his chair to the absolute minimum, then went on to ask Sep straight out “why didn’t you attack?”

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Tackling Tinkoff’s Threats

A poor start and lack of major results at the beginning of 2015 caused Oleg Tinkov to threaten to cut Sagan’s salary, while the team chef left at the Giro next year due to “threats and other inexcusable behaviour”. With this kind of environment, some could have struggled, under the pressure of a loss of income and management from a xenophobic sexist. It’s true that his season started on the back foot; he was in the lead group at E3 with 4.4km to go before being unable to follow Thomas’s attack and slipped from podium hopeful to 30th position. Yet despite this, Sagan soon appeared to perform better than ever. A surprise stage win ahead of van Emden in the time trial at the Tour of California awaited him, while he would go on to win the overall by millimetres – a bike throw gave him necessary bonus seconds over Alaphilippe of Quick-Step by 3 seconds. Amends for his lack of a contract in 2009, perhaps?

When Tinkoff folded at the end of 2016, as Sagan attacked solo and won the World Championships in Richmond, he joined teammates Bodnar, Kolar and brother Juraj at Bora-Hansgrohe.

Peter the Performer 

While one Sunroot advert shows him demonstrating his impressive bike talents, (wheelies, descending, bunny hopping up some stairs), it is perhaps the other one that generates the most interest. In the style of Gladiator, with his long hair flouncing and holding a sword, he eventually kicks down his competitor. The mise en scène then switches to Pulp Fiction style, with Sagan and his wife interpreting the dance scene. It’s… interesting to say the least. His latest advert with Bora is less extravagant. Turns out even someone like Peter Sagan can’t dress up and interpret many films to sell Bora.

Love him, hate him, or just impartial to him, it’s hard to admit that this man hasn’t had some form of an impact on cycling. After a while it only seemed the news was full of negative press about the sport, and while cyclists like Kittel and Martin are doing well for the sport in Germany, and Froome improving the sport in Britain, Sagan is definitely a figure that appeals worldwide. It’s easy to see why. While I haven’t agreed with all of Sagan’s actions (like that time Sagan pinched a podium girl’s behind and she was “frozen to the spot” trying hard to keep calm…), it looks like cycling is becoming Sagan’s show, and we’re lucky to witness it. Cycling needs a personality like him. I’ll end this post with one of my favourite Sagan quotes, away from the cycling circus. Feel free to add your own.

“The problems in the world we have to change… I think that in the next years it can all be different. I think this competition and all the sport is very nice for the people. And we are motivation for the people. The situation is very difficult. I want to say to all the people: change this world.”

 

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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.

2016 Belgian championship cycling race elite men

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

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.

Julian-Alaphilippe

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.

Milano - Sanremo 2017

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.