Belgian one-day specialist Philippe Gilbert handed his Francaise des Jeux team the ideal farewell gift by winning his maiden one-day classic at Paris-Tours on Sunday.
Gilbert’s first victory in the 102nd edition of the race, held over 252km, comes only weeks before he ends his five-year stay with the French outfit by moving to Silence-Lotto.
And the 26-year-old, one of Francaise des Jeux talisman riders in the past five years, admitted he went all out to make sure his final weeks with the team would be remembered by his emblematic manager Marc Madiot.
“I promised Marc that I would win a major race before I left” Gilbert said.
“I’ve had a few chances and came close a few times; I was runner-up on one stage in the Tour de France and the Tour of Spain,” he said.
“This morning I told myself this was my last chance. But, since it wasn’t too windy a day I didn’t fancy my chances of being able to break away,” Gilbert said.
Thanks in part to a lapse in concentration from his rivals, Gilbert went for broke in the closing 15km.
After the last rider from a five-man breakaway was caught 25km from the finish, an acceleration by Frenchman Sebastien Turgot 10km further on prompted Nicolas Vogondy, Mickael Delage then Belgian Jan Kuyckx to tag along.
Gilbert then closed the gap to the quartet after following, then passing Italian threat Filippo Pozzato on the penultimate climb of the day.
The leaders managed to stay in front for the remainder of the race, and after crossing the red flag signalling the final kilometer Gilbert waited patiently before jumping out from behind the wheel of teammate Delage after Vogondy had launched his bid 300m out.
He coasted over the finish line in triumph, with Kuyckx nipping ahead of French duo Turgot and Vogondy to take second place.
Bouygues Telecom’s Turgot was disappointed, but graceful in defeat.
“You can’t ever be happy when you’re going for the win and you finish third,” he said. “But at the same time you can’t have any regrets when you’re up against a rider like Gilbert.”
Having almost won the race twice, in 2005 and 2007, Gilbert knows it takes years of experience to finally land a prestigious one-day title.
“Paris-Tours is a major classic and one of those races that I’ve dream of winning,” Gilbert said.
“I started racing the classics young, at the age of 20, but now I’ve got the experience and I know how to approach it with making those fatal mistakes,” he said.
“Now, it’s the end of one chapter, but it’s not a farewell, just a goodbye,” Gilbert said.
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