He may not have been able to match the glorious success of last season, but Philippe Gilbert only needed one year to prove that he is one of the greatest classics riders of his generation.
Now at 30, he is something of a late bloomer, with the Belgian spending his early career as a journeyman rider on the journeyman FDJ team, giving little hint of the classics potential which would later be revealed.
Gradually as he moved on to the Lotto outfit in 2009, his palmares began to fill out. He took 3rd, 4th and 4th respectively at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege after winning the prestigious classic Omloop Het Volk the year before.
Two years later, and the extraordinary feat of winning the Ardennes triple was achieved by the Belgian – only Davide Rebellin had done it previously. As if that wasn’t an astonishing achievement in itself, Gilbert became the Belgian road race and time trial champion, won the Clasica de San Sebastian, the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec, the Strade Bianche and Brabantse Pijl amongst others.
It is testament to the rider that this season could be seen as a disappointment. It’s not only the fact he wins so many races that make him so popular, but the way he wins them. He – much like Alberto Contador – isn’t afraid to attack, and take risks. Inevitably, sometimes it doesn’t come off – but the racing is never dull when PhilGil is involved!