Yes, that headline could easily describe any of the weekend's high-profile winners, but I am not nearly as excited to talk about Danilo DiLuca or Alessandro Petacchi today. This is an ode to a great blood-and-guts Belgian, Philippe Gilbert.
Gilbert's win in Paris-Tours was fairly textbook, particularly from his repertoire. In the right crowd, he can sprint, and Paris-Tours isn't a bad place to tow a late breakaway to the line. He joined the winning move with 6km to go, taking advantage of a lull when Filippo Pozzato hit the breaks on his own bridge effort, upon discovering Oscar Freire on his wheel. After 250km, the response was too little, too late.
The win is also classic Gilbert, if only because you can expect him to always try something, and sooner rather than later. Usually too soon, at least when Gilbert is drawing attention (e.g., in Belgium) and seems to think he won't get a chance later on. But on at least two occasions, Gilbert timed his break late, and just right: Sunday, and way back at Milano-Sanremo. Here, it was from 6km. At MSR, Gilbert forced the pace over the Poggio and created the break over the last 5km that led to his taking third behind Pozzato and Fabian Cancellara. This is no coincidence: both races are long grinds with modest but interesting features toward the end, leaving open the chance for an escape, or a bunch sprint. Gilbert seems to have found a niche.
My favorite thing about Gilbert is the fact that he's such a grinder. His best race of the year was also his 91st race day, a massive total including the Tour Down Under, Paris-Nice, a full classics slate including MSR, the cobbled races, and the Ardennes, the Tour de Suisse, Belgian Nats, Tour de France, Eneco Tour, Vuelta and the Worlds. He took a couple two-week breaks from reported races, one between his spring and summer campaigns, and another after the Tour (when he was presumably off riding criteriums). 91 days (and counting) might be a personal record, but last year his total was 88, and a cursory glance at past seasons shows something similar. His results show the toll: 18 of his 28 top-ten finishes were before the first day of summer. But a summer of grinding teamwork and occasional stage-hunting is admirable for a high-profile guy, particularly when he can do all that and come into the fall campaign with a blistering form.
I do hope he's leaving Marc Madiot's Française des Jeux program on good terms. His six seasons in white and clubs were solidly successful, and he's going home to Belgium (and Silence-Lotto) a championship-level rider. It's a little sad for a team like FdJ to lose Gilbert, in a way that, say Oakland A's fans can appreciate. But Gilbert's parting gift is arguably his greatest triumph, and well, well earned.