Tour de France: Gilbert powers into yellow with commanding stage one uphill win
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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Tour de France: Gilbert powers into yellow with commanding stage one uphill win

by Bjorn Haake at 1:10 PM EST   comments
Categories: Tour de France
Belgian drops two colors off his driekleur jersey to take first-ever yellow for him

philippe gilbertPhilippe Gilbert once again withstood the pre-race favorite pressure to take a commanding stage-on win in the 98th Tour de France. On the uphill finish, the Belgian calmly collected a desperate Fabian Cancellara to take a solo victory on the Mont des Alouettes. Gilbert had dyed his hair blond before the race. The fact that he didn't make it the Belgian black-yellow-red was a sign before the start in the Passage du Gois that the yellow jersey was his big goal.

The finish was tailor-made for the puncheur that he is. "This was a golden opportunity," he said after crossing the line solo. While he made the final look easy, his description showed the hardness of his win. "It took a lot of power as there was a headwind," he said about the final uphill kilometers.

The Belgian knew that taking the stage would not have been possible alone. "My team was really strong," he said. André Greipel was there to give it his best in the first part of the uphill and Jurgen Roelandts was the last Lotto rider to pull his captain. Roelandts, on his 26th birthday, stayed calm, even with a last ditch Movistar attack. "Roelandts was right on his wheel," Gilbert said. Roelandts, encouraged by a nod of Gilbert, led inside the final kilometer.

When Roelandts peeled off, chronoman Cancellara sought his chance. "We had talked about it before the race and we knew he would attack," Gilbert explained. The Belgian Champion was prepared for the battle. "When Cancellara saw me, he sat up," the Monaco-resident described matter-of-factly. The problem for the others was that they couldn't match Gilbert's acceleration. With Cancellara dropped, it was still a long way to the finish and Gilbert kept checking back. "I saw Boasson Hagen and knew I had to continue my effort," he said.

The front group was very small, owed to a large pile-up inside ten kilometers to go. "It was a surprise to have such a small group," Gilbert acknowledged. said. But it played perfectly into his hands. "This is an enormous day."

The team is the star

His whole team team was there for him from start to finish. "It was a lot of work, but we had confidence in Gilbert," Frederik Willems said. Marcel Sieberg had similar thoughts. "We had to do a loot of the pacemaking, only Garmin helped a little bit." He confirmed that the entire team was ready for Gilbert. "We had closely looked at the course beforehand," he said. One thing they hadn't counted on were the many crashes. "We had two or three riders go down - Greipel crashed in the neutral zone," Sieberg said.

The crash was reduced by driving the pace. "I didn't even realize there was a big crash," Sieberg said about the pile-up inside the ten-kilometer mark that delayed some of the GC contenders. After a good night's rest, the team will battle in the team time trial. "It will be difficult," Sieberg said. "But we will give our best."

Gilbert took his first Tour de France stage win in his fifth participation. His best result so far was second place behind Alejandro Valverde in the 2008 Tour - also on stage one and without a prologue. Gilbert has had an extraordinary season, taking four straight wins in two April weeks (Liège - Bastogne - Liège, Flèche Wallonne, Amstel Gold Race, and the Brabantse Pijl).

He had a similar streak in 2009, when he won the Giro di Lombardia, the Giro del Piemonte, Paris - Tours, and the Coppa Sabatini between October 8 and 17. His ability to recover quickly will give him more chances in the first week to take a stage. Belgian media predicted three or four wins. The pressure is on - and that always motivates Gilbert.


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