Historic hat-trick for Gilbert
Brilliant Belgian makes it three from three
Last Updated: 24/04/11 4:49pm
Gilbert: King of the Ardennes Classics
Philippe Gilbert claimed a remarkable hat-trick of Ardennes Classics successes by outsprinting the Schleck brothers to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
The Belgian – who had romped to victories at both the Amstel Gold Race and Fleche Wallonne in the last seven days – broke away with his equally high-profile rivals on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons and then produced one of his trademark late kicks to make it three wins from three.
“It’s the most beautiful day in my sporting life,” an understandably emotional Gilbert told reporters soon after crossing the finish line.
“It’s a race I have dreamed of winning for years and when I passed my home village near the end it was something very special and gave me even more motivation.
“The race went perfectly for me and I’ll make sure I now appreciate every moment.”
Continuing the trend throughout the Classics this year, the action had taken place in near-perfect conditions and was fierce from the off with 10 riders moving clear inside the opening 10km.
That group were over three minutes ahead as they crested the Côte de Saint-Roch, and their lead had remained largely intact as they hit the Côte de Wanne.
Behind, Gilbert’s Omega Pharma-Lotto team had taken it upon themselves to monitor the early pace of the peloton, but it was only when Leopard-Trek stepped in to lend a hand that the break’s advantage began to tumble.
Sensing an opportunity, Lars-Petter Nordhaug (Team Sky) and Jonny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) both attacked on the Cote de Stockeu, but their move was quickly cancelled out, and it was only on the Haute-Levee that a new bunch of 10 riders also worked themselves free.
Up ahead, four riders from the front group had fallen off the pace, and the remnants from that would be caught by their pursuers on the slopes of the Masquisard to form an elite 14-man bunch.
Their numbers had halved by the time they hit La Redoute, and when the Schlecks and Gilbert jumped from the head of the peloton on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons, only Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Jerome Pineau (Quick-Step) could stay with them over the top.
Gasparotto and Pineau were unable to hang on for much longer, and despite his best efforts, Van Avermaet also fell back soon after they had pressed on to the Côte de Saint-Nicolas.
Despite their numerical advantage, the Schlecks failed to attack Gilbert on that sharp final rise, and were made to pay on the long closing straight as the 28-year-old become only the second rider in history after Davide Rebellin to make it a clean sweep in the season’s Ardennes Classics.
After the race, Andy Schleck admitted the better man had won on the day and conceded: "There was nothing that we could do. Gilbert is just a classy rider."
Elsewhere, Rigoberto Urán claimed a top-five finish for Team Sky, 24 seconds behind, while defending champion Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) was almost two minutes off the pace due to him picking up a late puncture.