Philippe Gilbert’s stunning Amstel Gold Race triumph confirmed his return to the very top of the cycling world, says Roger Hammond.
In a repeat of his 2012 World Championships success on a similar course, the BMC rider bounded clear of his rivals on the final ascent of the Cauberg climb and powered to the line.
The prestigious win – which came just days after his victory at Brabantse Pijl – was Gilbert’s third Amstel Gold Race triumph and Hammond says the Belgian is back to his best.
“Hats off to him. That’s a fantastic ride,” the two-time British road race champion told Sky Sports.
“If you’re out and out favourite for a difficult race like that you need to remain calm but BMC rode a fantastic race for him. We hardly saw anything of him until the last lap before the Cauberg and that just meant he saved a lot of energy for that final attack – when he was head and shoulders above everybody else.
“There were three pre-race favourites attacking on one side of the road and he rode past them like they were standing still.
“That’s the thing about these Monument champion riders. On the day, under pressure, at the end of 250km, they can, time and time again, bring out performances they win races with.”
After a frustrating 12 months in the world champion's jersey in 2013, Gilbert is now hot favourite to secure repeat victories at the remaining Ardennes classics, La Fleche Wallonne, which takes place on Wednesday, and Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
In 2011 Gilbert became just the second rider ever to win a remarkable treble of the hilly spring classics and Hammond reckons few of his rivals will be able to match his explosive power over the next few days.
“After quite a lean period over the last 14 months he’s now back at the top of the world,” said Hammond.
“With his favourite races to come – Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege - he must be over the moon with the past couple of races.
“He seems to be a rider that thrives on pressure. To win Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday and now win this, some riders get crushed under that but Gilbert grows in stature and strength. You’d be brave to bet against him now.
“Given the acceleration he showed on the Cauberg today, you’d be a fool to bet against him.
“The only problem is he has signalled how good he is and how strong he is with a week to go for Liege.
“But then everybody knew he was good at Amstel and he just rode them off the wheel. He attacked when it counted and that was it.”