Philippe Gilbert does the Monster Mash at Amstel Gold
Could anyone have stopped Philippe Gilbert on his favourite hill, the Cauberg? Michal Kwiatkowski would maybe have had half a chance if he’d had a little more help from team-mates.
“We lost Tony Martin in a key moment and I missed him at the end.”
What Kwiatkowski omits to mention is that his Omega Pharma – Quick Step team lost Tony Martin because Kwiatkowski himself shoulder-barged him into a hedge. It was one of many points during Amstel Gold when the road narrows and someone comes a cropper. Geraint Thomas crashed for about the 40th time this season and Joaquim Rodriguez was forced to abandon with concussion.
Phil Gilbert is a man possessed of a certain appetite for thigh pain – that’s his thing. With their short, steep climbs, the Ardennes Classics reward this particular brand of gluttony, but since he won all three races in 2011, Gilbert has disappointed.
That ended yesterday. With Kwiatkowski, Alejandro Valverde and Simon Gerrans striving for the lead on the final climb, Gilbert took the inside line on a corner, up the steepest bit, and went past all of them.
People often say that riders who are out of the saddle are ‘dancing on the pedals’ but that describes a slinky, sinuous movement. If Gilbert does any kind of dance, it’s the Monster Mash – or, as far as his bottom bracket is concerned, some sort of break dance. You can see the effort. The key, however, is that whatever pain he feels, everyone else is feeling it too, and Gilbert..? Well, he just sort of likes it.
If Amstel Gold was decided on the final climb this year then Wednesday’s La Fleche Wallonne almost always is. You can expect Gilbert to feature again, but the Mur de Huy is rather steeper than the Cauberg. The latter is 1.2km at 5.9% and 12% at its steepest point. The Mur de Huy is 1.3km at 9.3% but reaches an unappealing 17% and even 26% if you take the wrong line.
The peloton tackles tougher climbs throughout the year, but they’re not always so intense, they’re not always at the finish and there aren’t normally quite so many riders going for the win. This makes the last few minutes of La Fleche Wallonne the most visibly painful of the year. It’s ace.