17 April 2012
It was only one year ago.
The Brabantse Pijl and the Amstel Gold Race.
La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
He won all four of these races within twelve days.
He was the hero of the Ardennes classics.
No one was able to stop him, he was simply unbeatable.
It seemed so easy, so logical, so simple at the time, but
it seems so unlikely, so incredible and so unhuman today.
How can someone win so many classics in a row?
Thomas Voeckler won this year’s Brabantse Pijl.
He didn’t win the Amstel Gold Race though.
You would almost say: of course not, impossible.
Still, he managed to only let four riders cross the finish line
before him on top of the Cauberg in Valkenburg.
There are riders in the peloton who are capable of
riding top ten in more than one classic in a year.
There are even riders who can actually win several classics in a year.
But what Philippe Gilbert did in 2011 was beyond any expectation.
It was more than just a fairy tale that came true.
He managed to leave all the other fighters behind him
and became the absolute king of the classics.
At the time we all saw it happen and did not even
pinch ourselves to see if we weren’t daydreaming.
No, Philippe Gilbert was all of a sudden fit to win the Tour!
He seemed so unstoppable that even journalists started
to look at him with the thought of seeing a superhero at work.
Well, Philippe Gilbert did win many, many races in 2011.
After his heroic Spring he won the Tour of Belgium, the Ster ZLM Toer,
the Clásica San Sebastián, both Belgian championships, the
Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec and the Grand Prix de Wallonnie.
On top of that, he also managed to win the 1st stage
of the Tour de France and got to wear the famous yellow jersey.
It was no wonder that at the end of the 2011 season Philippe Gilbert
was the number one in the UCI World Tour ranking.
Now it’s exactly one year later and things are different from 2011.
It’s not just that he moved to the BMC Racing Team in 2012,
but also that riders are no longer focusing on Gilbert during a race.
Philippe Gilbert was simply not good enough at the beginning of this season.
As a result of that, he didn’t win this year’s Brabantse Pijl or Amstel Gold Race. Slowly he’s getting there though, becoming a bit better every day.
Only La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège still have
to take place and the Spring classics of 2012 will be all over again.
Will he still win one of “the four”, a race that belongs to his record?
Maybe the fact that his younger brother Jérôme signed a contract
with Accent.Jobs-Willems Veranda’s will give him some extra motivation.
It was only last year that he was a superhero in many people’s eyes.
But cycling resembles life with its many ups and downs.
Nothing is certain. No pain, no glory.
Despite his heroic victories, he’s still human.
A win this week would be a fresh start for him
and another beautiful victory on his long palmarès.