Stage 11, yesterday, was one for the underdog; local boy Mikel Iturria taking win number one of his pro career on home roads. Lovely stuff. Today, in contrast, we were treated to a legend.
The overdog, if you like.
There are many reasons to love Belgian big-hitter Philippe Gilbert: he’s won an absolute shit-tonne of big bike races over the years; he rides with style and charisma; and he has a name that can be comically mangled in a range of ways.
At the 2017 Tour of Flanders, for example, Sean Kelly, commentating for Eurosport, referred to him as Gilippe Filbert. My father, a pro cycling fan himself, insists on calling him Philip Giblet.
He finds this hilarious.
Gilbert’s forte, of course, is the one-day classic. But right now we’re in the Basque Country, on Grand Tour duty. The cobbles and cow-shit of northern Europe are not big on the agenda. Hilly, beautiful, breakaway friendly stages are what we came for.Embed from Getty Images
As for Gilbert (or Filbert, or maybe Giblet), he’s here, among other reasons, to tune up that Rolls Royce of an engine for the World Championships Road Race in Yorkshire at the end of September.
With the breakaway three minutes clear of the peloton, and skirting Bilbao in search of a final climb, we knew the winner would come from here. The Alto de Arraiz, just over two kilometres of steep, steep gradient, saw blue touch paper lit.
The stronger riders at the head of the field, and Gilbert looked imperious. Glancing up the slopes ahead, relaxed and thinking clearly, as those around him toiled.
This is what a winner looks like.
As the climb wound on he jumped clear.
Only Aranburu and Barcelo, Spaniards both, could respond. The backdrop of Bilbao a canvas on which Gilbert went about painting one of his impressionistic masterpieces. A blur, all colour and movement. The crowds, baying and wild, like a Spring classic. Gilbert in his element.
At the summit, a twenty second lead.Embed from Getty Images
The descent, an eight-kilometre pursuit to the line, was dispatched. The Spaniards brought him back to within mere seconds but Gilbert had time for a little smirk on the finishing straight; a smirk that seemed to say well, wouldn’t you know it…the Worlds are around the corner and just look what I can do!
Grand Tour stage win number ten, to add to a Paris Roubaix, a Tour of Flanders, a Liege Bastogne Liege, a Tour of Lombardy, four Amstel Gold Races, a couple of Omloops, a Strade Bianche, a Fleche Wallonne…
The list goes on.
(Top Image: youkeys [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D)