Philippe Gilbert is simply brilliant. He’s now won the past 4 major races in a row: Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. And he’s done it in a number of different ways – sheer power, tactics, even a sprint. If you’re unfamiliar with Gilbert, I did a short write up on the Amstel Gold HERE. Belgians, and Gilbert in particular, are on a tear this year.
When you’re done watching the final 4 minutes of the race posted in the video above, head on over to Red Kite Prayer to read a great write up on this monumental race.
Below, here’s a great insightful video from Leopard-Trek’s resident leg-breaker, Jens Voight, on what makes Liege-Bastogne-Liege unique and what Andy and Frank Schleck needed to do…turns out they were there in the end but maybe too much wasted energy led to their demise? Then again, they wouldn’t have been there together in the end if they hadn’t made the race like they did. Either way, according to Jens, it all comes down to taking a chance and being “brave.” No question the Schlecks rode bravely but in the end another man was simply stronger.
Time to catch up on all the past weekend’s cycling news (including race results from Liege-Bastogne-Liege) with the AGR Daily Newspaper. The AGR Daily aggregates all the news from around the world of cycling, allowing you to view in one place. If this is your first time viewing the AGR Daily, you can read a brief explanation of how it works HERE. Just click on the above image to view the newspaper!
The Amstel Gold was on Sunday and another Belgian won. Amstel is the Netherlands biggest pro bike race and begins what’s called the Ardennes classics. These series of spring races, named for the Ardennes mountains and forests that make up northern Belgium, France, and Luxembourg, include the monument Liege-Bastogne-Liege and also Fleche Wallone (coming up in a few weeks)
Ridiculously narrow roads. Road furniture that comes out of nowhere. Steep, punchy climbs and a crazy uphill finish. That’s Amstel Gold. The beauty of these spring classics (Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix + a host of smaller races) is that they all have their own quality and character and they generally favor different kinds of riders. Every few generations, we may see a Fabian Cancellara that can compete in all of them but for the most part San Remo favors the sprinters, Flanders takes a strongman able to burst over short climbs, Paris-Roubaix is sheer power and guts, and Amstel Gold takes an incredible all-arounder with a massive uphill sprint.
In this year’s edition, the rider with the number one on his back as defending champion, Philippe Gilbert, chased down Andy Schleck and powered his way up the finishing climb to reassert himself as a man for the classics. Gilbert is from the French speaking region of Belgium, but hey he’s Belgian, and the Flemish have adopted him as one of their own.
So just in case you’re counting this spring, that’s FOUR BELGIANS that have won the past FIVE classics/semi-classics: Tom Boonen at Ghent-Wevelgem, Nick Nuyens at Flanders, Johan van Summeren at Paris-Roubaix, Philippe Gilbert at Brabantse Pijl, and again Gilbert at Amstel Gold. Belgium is smaller than Indiana and they’re kicking the crap out of the rest of the world in the toughest races on the planet. The legendary toughness of Belgian bike racers is well-earned.
Almost makes me want to go train for 4 hours in the freezing rain. Almost.
One thing that’s true about bike racing at all levels, the strongest rider doesn’t always win. That’s racing. If you watched the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, it was clear why everyone was so concerned about Fabian Cancellara in the weeks leading up to the race. As advertised, he was clearly the strongest rider in the field. The guy’s a monster, actually. The only thing that can be said about his ride is that possibly he lost out on some tactics that didn’t go his way. When Tom Boonen attacked, Fabian had to go with him. Boonen literally pulled Cancellara up to the front of the field and then launched him up to a Quickstep teammate, Sylvain Chavanel, who was up the road on a solo flyer. Then Boonen faded. Not big Tom’s greatest move. Once this happened, Fabian had to play the card he was dealt. Potentially, his other option would have been to sit in and wait for the final climb. But this would have been a big gamble and a thoroughbred can only be held back for so long. So off he went. Fabian bridged up to Chavanel, eventually got reeled in by the pack, then unbelievably launched again. It finally came down to a group of three: Chavanel, eventual winner Nick Nuyens, and Fabian. The following video reveals the final k – all of the work being done by Cancellara. He made the race, broke it open, and dragged the trio to the finish line where an astute Nuyens took advantage of having done the least amount of work. Very smart tactic on Nuyen’s part. He was invisible all day until it counted and rode away with the biggest victory of his life. After crossing the finish line, the first thing he should have done was turn and say a big thank you to Spartacus. Reaction in the Saxo team car is priceless.
Below is an incredible video from a documentary on de Ronde that I had saved in a draft and meant to post last week. I thought about saving it ’til next year but it’s just too good not to share now. In it, the toughest men (Cancellara, Hausler, Gilbert, Eddy Merckx, and others) talk about the toughest race and just how massive the Tour of Flanders really is:
Next up: The Queen of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix.