Belgian rider Philippe Gilbert won the men’s cycling world road race title for the first time on Sunday.
The 30-year-old, who last year became only the second rider to win all three Ardennes one day classics in the same season, broke away on the final climb to come home clear of Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen while Alejandro Valverde of Spain took the bronze.
Gilbert said that his bad memories from the 2010 edition, when he had attacked on the final climb in Geelong, Australia, but was caught with 5km to go, had been at the back of his mind.
“I was very disappointed by that defeat,” he said. “The manner of that defeat, though, served to strengthen me in a way. One changes every time one loses, because one has more experience. I was recalling that race during this one and it certainly played a role in my performance. I didn’t have the right to make a mistake this time, I wouldn’t have 10 similar chances for the rest of my life.”
Boasson Hagen said that Gilbert owed his victory as much to the confusion among his rivals when he made his decisive move than to his own individual brilliance.
“When Gilbert set off, I couldn’t get onto his wheel, I was a little too far back,” the 25-year-old said.
“I was hoping that other riders would do the work to plug the gap. I thought Valverde would fulfill that role. Under the circumstances I have to be happy with the silver medal,” he said.
Valverde, who only returned to competition this year after serving a two year doping ban, said that Gilbert could not have timed his break better.
“I am pleased with the bronze medal,” said the 32-year-old, who had previously taken silver twice in the road race in 2003 and 2005.
“It wasn’t possible to follow Gilbert when he made his break. We [the other riders] just didn’t get it together after that. There was no collaboration between any of us because we were not far from the line and each of us had a medal in our heads,” he added.
Spain’s two-time Tour de France champion, and recent Tour of Spain winner Alberto Contador, had livened up the race with 81km of the 267km race distance to go, breaking away with a group including France’s leading hope Thomas Voeckler.
The Belgian team, though, led the pursuing pack and reeled them in at the 233km mark.
Various riders made breaks without being able to build up a large enough lead before Gilbert, who had never even won a medal in the race, made his break on the final climb of the Cauberg.
None of the pursuing riders were able to orchestrate a coordinated counter attack and the Belgian, who had warmed up for the race with two stage wins in the Tour of Spain, was able to start his race celebrations well before the finishing line.
British rider Mark Cavendish’s defense of his title ended in disappointing fashion as he retired from the race with 111km to go.
The 27-year-old had not been expected to be a contender for the title this time round as the undulating 267km course was less suited to his talents than the one he won on in Copenhagen last year.
Cavendish, who last year became the first British rider since the late Tom Simpson in 1965 to win the world title, had set the pace on several occasions at the head of the peloton before finally giving up.
He was joined on the sidelines later in the race by Tour de France and Olympic time-trial champion champion Bradley Wiggins and Tour de France runner-up and Olympic time-trial bronze medalist Chris Froome, both exhausted from their long seasons.