Philippe Gilbert is a worthy world champion. Ask around the peloton and the team cars and everyone will tell you the same thing. Not just for the way he won this race, impressive though that was, but for the way he has built an entire career towards this moment. From his early years with Français des Jeux, through his dominant spell with home team Lotto, and even through his troubled first season with BMC, it has all been leading to this.
Gilbert is a man who always rides to win. There was not a single rider on the start line in Valkenburg who didn't know that he would attack on the final ascent of the Cauberg at the weekend, but there was not a single rider there when he did who could do anything about it. Bronze medallist Alejandro Valverde wondered what might have been had he gone after Gilbert immediately, but silver medallist Boasson Hagen was perhaps being more realistic when he acknowledged that when Gilbert is in such imperious form, there really isn't much anyone else can do.
The long road
It has not been an easy ride to this title for Gilbert, in either the short or long term. In the short term he has faced a barrage of questions over his form since swapping Lotto for BMC. After a slow start to his spring campaign he actually managed to find the legs to make the podium at Flèche Wallone, but it was scant return for a man who had completed an Ardennes hat-trick among his 18 wins the year before. The Tour and Olympics also yielded little reward, but two stage wins at the Vuelta confirmed the suspicions of a few that the Walloon was on course for an end of season Indian summer that would see him crowned in Holland. As a two-time winner, if he can bring his Worlds form into this weekend's Il Lombardia then he could well end the campaign with a monument to his name too.
In the longer term, Gilbert's rise has been a steady one built on a diet of hard work and an attacking instinct. Having turned his back on early fame to escape to France and learn his trade under Marc Madiot away from the glare of the Belgian media, Gilbert returned to his home country a more complete cyclist and was able to deliver for Lotto the Belgian wins they craved. And now he is his country's first world champion since Tom Boonen in 2005.
It has often been said in the past that cycling has had the champions it deserves. If that adage was true then, so must we hope it is true now. A humble man, a staunch anti-doping voice in the peloton, and a rider who never leaves a race without discovering first whether he could have won it. Keep these kind of champions coming, please.
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