Sunday, March 6, 2011
Gilbert, King of the Strade Bianche
Philip Gilbert, the Omega Pharma-Lotto rider from Beligum, triumpheds in the Gazzetta race in Siena, beating Ballan and Cunego in the final stretch leading to Piazza del Campo: "After winning the Giro di Lombardia and now in Siena, Italy is my paradise".
Philip the Winner has now won the Strade Bianche too. Philippe Gilbert, the prince of the classics, the king of finishers, the god of the last kilometre, left his mark - on his opponents' legs, on the last corner and in the Hall of Fame of dirt-road races. In these one-day events, when it's all or nothing, do or die, Gilbert always does. In a thrilling final sprint he held off Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego to finish on top of the podium - a result that has a World Championship feel to it.
With one hundred and ten racers at the start, the first attack came after 5 km with De Marchi and Dutchman Posthuma; the first breakaway on the first dirt-road section, in the 37th kilometre, with Rocchetti, Luxemburger Andy Schleck, the German Sieberg, Longo Borghini and the Austrian Brandle. Schleck then dropped away (two punctures would later end his race) but the others remained compact until they were caught up by Ermeti, the Swiss Kohler, Ricci Bitti, the Slovakian Peter Velits, the Belgian Van Avermaet, the Australian O’Grady and the American Peterson. The front pack held a 3-minute lead at one point before it slowly evaporated. Van Avermaet and Roubaiz winner O’Grady found themselves alone. They were caught, raced clear, and then caught again, this time definitively 13 km from the finish. The Lampre team were racing for Cunego and the group stayed close together until the final kilometre. And that's when Gilbert made his attack.
Link to short video here.
Final 15 minutes (in Italian):
Gilbert in paradise
A beaming Gilbert said: "Italy is my paradise. My last race of 2010 was the Giro di Lombardia, the first of 2011 is the Strade Bianche, and they are two wins I'll never be able to forget. It was a fast race and a nervous finale on dangerous little streets. I knew Ballan was on my wheel and Cunego was 50 metres further behind and I didn't want him to come back. I waited for Ballan to launch his sprint before starting my own. 250 metres from the line he came up alongside me and we battled for the last corner. But I was on the inside and I knew that could be a decisive advantage." Ballan seemed happy: "We had Van Avermaet ahead of us and that allowed us to sit calmly in the chasing pack, staying on the wheel of the front few, and feeling fairly fresh. On the last stretch Gilbert made his burst. He had Cunego on his wheel but as he didn't respond immediately a bit of a gap formed. I managed to close it and went for the sprint on the outside. But on the final curve, elbow to elbow, I was afraid I would end up hitting the barriers. I had to break suddenly and that's where victory disappeared."
Cunego and Evans
Cunego was pleased: "Gilbert's burst was devastating. I tried to hang on, hoping to recover on the flat and the descent before Piazza del Campo. I went for it, I pushed, and I even almost managed to fight my way back at the end. Gilbert had more than everyone else. It was a good test for me, though. The 200 km were more suited to people like Gilbert and Ballan than me; if there had been another 50 km things might have gone differently. But if I think about last year when, because of falls and illness, I never managed to find my best form, I can't not be happy. This is a good result. Cadel Evans: "It was an exciting race, I wanted to stay up front to help my team-mates, especially Ballan. And I managed it until, about 17 km from the end, a fall in front of me forced me to slow down. I kept chasing, I almost got back but I couldn't manage it in the end. Still, it's only my second race of the year and I'm already doing well." Giovanni Visconti: "It was my first real race of the year and I was still there in the last kilometre but then I felt tired and I didn't push myself all the way." Paolo Longo Borghini was satisfied: "It was up in the air, from the start almost to the end. Exciting stuff. It was my first gravel-road finish and for me that's as good as a win."
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