Gilbert wins and wins
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gilbert wins and wins

by Steve Jones at 10:41 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 

Belgian Philippe Gilbert has been awarded with the 2009 Trofee voor Sportverdienste (National Merit trophy for sport), one of his country's highest distinctions in sport, after what has been a remarkable first season riding for the Silence-Lotto team. Gilbert closed out the year with four successive victories in the Coppa Sabatini, Paris-Tours, the Giro del Piemonte and the Giro di Lombardia.

The award is not taken lightly by the country, and last year there was no award handed out because the jury, that consists of former sports champions, felt there wasn't a worthy recipient.

"Philip deserves to be winner," cycling legend and jury member Eddy Merckx told Belga.  "He certainly did not steal that money. Philippe is a true professional. He always keeps his feet on the ground - he has already made great sacrifices in his career and now he reaps the fruits."

The award was last won by a cyclist in 2005, when Tom Boonen amazed in the Spring Classics with his the Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double, and capped off his season by winning the road World Championships.

The country began handing out the award in 1933 and Gilbert makes the 11th cyclist honored. Besides Boonen and Gilbert, Georges Ronsse Sports (1929), Jozef Scherens (1933), Brik Schotte (1950), Andre Noyelle (1952), Rik Van Looy (1961), Ferdinand Bracke and Eddy Merckx (1967), Johan Museeuw (1996) and Axel Merckx (2004) have all earned the distinction.

This is extremely important for Gilbert's team, who will change their name to Omega Pharma-Lotto in 2010. The Belgian squad received great criticism after a slow start to their 2009 season. They bounced back with end-of-year exploits by Gilbert and Cadel Evans, who took a stunning victory in Mendrisio, Switzerland to become World Champion.

Evans shocked the cycling world again by moving to the BMC Racing team using the buy-out clause in his contract, leaving the team sponsors without the publicity of the rainbow jersey for 2010.

While it's no World Championship, Omega Pharma-Lotto is a Belgian team, and with Gilbert's performances earning the sponsors publicity from the Flandrien award for best Belgian cyclist, and now this, the team management will have some positive momentum going into next season.

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