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April 21, 2014 – A new, leaner Philippe Gilbert stormed to victory at the Amstel Gold Race and then set his sights on a second Ardennes treble. It was his third victory on the 251.8km course that began in Maastricht and ended in Valkenburg on Sunday with a demonstration of Gilbert’s strength after he accelerated away from the competition on the final Cauberg climb. But having done the treble of Ardennes Classics in 2011 — he also won the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege — the Belgian believes his new slimline physique and the strength of his BMC team could help him make history by becoming the first person ever to do the treble twice. Already the 31-year-old shares the distinction of doing the treble with Italian David Rebellin, but the 31-year-old is not ruling out another such feat.
“Three years ago I was a bit stronger than now because I had already won at the beginning of the season,” he said, referring to his incredible 2011 in which he won 18 races throughout the season, starting with the Montepaschi Strade Bianche in early March.
“But I was in a different situation. Now, in stage races I have to work for team-mates such as (Australian Cadel) Evans, (American Teejay) van Garderen and now (Spaniard Samuel) Sanchez, so I have to put an X (to rule out) often next to my stage wins. But that’s part of the game, sometimes I have to work for them but like (Sunday), they worked for me. Everyone’s a winner. That’s why I win fewer races but it’s part of the game. We’re a big team with ambitions in many races, so everyone has to work hard.”
Following on from his stunning 2011 season, Gilbert joined BMC from Lotto and became world champion in 2012 on this same course in the Netherlands. But that was a far less successful season in which his only other victories were two stages at the Tour of Spain, although he did finish third at the Fleche Wallonne and sixth at Amstel.
In 2013 he was again close on many occasions — finishing second in the Brabantse Pijl, fifth at Amstel and seventh at Liege — before finally gaining a win at September’s Vuelta. This year, though, Gilbert says his off-season preparation went better.
“I had a good winter after a disappointing last season for me and all those close to me,” he said. “I really withdrew into myself and refused all requests from the outside. I just trained and looked after myself more than before. Those sacrifices paid off. I could start the season with less weight and now my weight is also interesting. We know that weight is a cyclist’s worst enemy and I’ve beaten my worst enemy.”
Australian Simon Gerrans, the 2012 Milan-San Remo winner who finished third on Sunday, believes Gilbert is capable of snatching another Ardennes treble. “He’s off to a good start and he’s halfway there so anything’s possible,” said the Orica-GreenEdge rider. “When Philippe rode away to the finish he was obviously the strongest guy.”