Jelle Vanendert proves himself a critical teammate for Philippe Gilbert in Amstel Gold win
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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jelle Vanendert proves himself a critical teammate for Philippe Gilbert in Amstel Gold win

by Jered Gruber at 5:29 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Talented young rider returns to the fore following a number of years in the wilderness

There was concern ahead of the Amstel Gold Race that one of the only blemishes in the seemingly impenetrable armor of Philippe Gilbert was his team. At the Tour of Flanders, the Walloon was noticeably without support in the finale.

Ahead of Sunday's Amstel Gold Race, Gilbert confidently said that he thought the Ardennes would be different. He noted that the addition of Jurgen van den Broeck would be key, but also a less known name, Jelle Vanendert.

The 26 year old rider caused a sensation in Belgium in 2007, when, at the age of only 22, he finished twelfth in la Fleche Wallonne. He was lauded as Belgium's next big climbing hope, but little has come of that since. Injury and illness have laid his talents low, but on Sunday, it became apparent that Vanendert is back to top form.

The combined efforts of Van den Broeck and Vanendert, along with a healthy dose of domestique riding from Gilbert himself, made a three-man team that no one could touch in the finale.

Vanendert's efforts were crucial for two reasons according to the rejuvenated Belgian.

"First, to prevent Cancellara and Fränk Schleck from returning to the field, and then to deliver Gilbert to the Cauberg," said Vanendert to La Derniere Heure.

Vanendert indicates that while Gilbert is certainly a physical specimen to behold, he's also a leader, a rider able to coax every last drop out of his riders.

"I did a little work in each phase of the race, but Phil encouraged me all the time. He would talk to me when he was on my wheel, or through the radio, as in the time when he went back to ask Rabobank to ride [in the chase for Andy Schleck]. It was very motivating."

Afterwards, Gilbert talked about the final phase of the race.

"I had exceptionally good legs and the team was great. Jurgen van den Broeck was extremely strong in the run-in to the Keutenberg. He rode such a pace that all anyone could do was hold on to the wheel. Later, Andy Schleck attacked at just the right moment, but I told Jelle Vanendert not to close the gap too quickly, so that there would be no counter-attacks from Rabobank. We kept him within sight, and with that goal in mind, I also helped. On the descent, I gave it full throttle - the other riders had to respond quickly in order to hang on," said Gilbert to Eurosport.

Vanendert played a major part in making sure that which happened two years ago, didn't happen again on Sunday: a break deciding the race on the Cauberg.

"Two years ago, I lost the race, because we had left the top three [Ivanov, Kroon, and Gesink] with too much of a lead. I swore to myself that would not happen again. With the great preliminary work of my team, we made sure that didn't happen."

For Sunday's 13th place finisher, Vanendert, it was a sweet return, and he's happy to breathe a sigh of relief that things are finally beginning to go the way he had hoped they would when he surged into the Belgian cycling conscience.

"I have had difficult seasons, and although I have always believed in myself and my abilities, I must admit, that I had some doubts earlier this year when I still had knee pains, and I could not train with the team in Mallorca. So, my performance on Sunday at the Amstel Gold Race does a lot of good for my morale, especially because there was a victory from Gilbert at the end!"

Looking ahead to Wednesday's Fleche Wallonne, like Gilbert himself, Vanendert is hesitant to put too much of a favorite label on his team captain, but...

"Wednesday is not the ideal race for him, but with the form he has, you never know."

It's safe to say that we can expect more in the coming weeks, years, and months from the rider from Neerpelt.

"To be honest, I surprised myself a bit in the Gold Race. On Monday, I watched the race again, and I found that I rode far into the finale. I think you can say I've returned as a rider," concludes Vanendert to Het Nieuwsblad.


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