The 36-year-old – victorious on the penultimate stage of the Tour de la Provence – has now notched up at least a win in each of his 17 pro seasons.
Only three days have passed since Philippe Gilbert made his season debut, and the Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider has already scored his first victory of the year, which was made even more special by the presence of his two boys, who attended the finish after visiting their father also before the start, in Aubagne.
“I had several teammates on the last lap and they helped me a lot today, putting me in a good position going into the final climb. I was in the sixth or seventh position and remained calm when it began pouring with attacks, stayed attentive and decided to follow them knowing they will fight for the GC, thus giving me a chance to keep my energy for a sprint. After the chasing group caught us with only a few kilometers left, I continued to stay near the front and found the best position from where to open my sprint. It was very important to remain calm in a hectic finale like the one of today and I’m happy for pulling it off”, Philippe explained after the podium ceremony.
Before Gilbert sprinted to Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s seventh victory of the year, another rider of the team – Kasper Asgreen – found himself in the spotlight. The 24-old-year Dane, who last year impressed at the Vuelta a España and World Championships, was part of a nine-man group who got away early in the stage between Aubagne and Le Castellet and carved out a 3:30-advantage which they kept until the foot of the last of the four ascents of the Côte du Brûlat.
A strong contingent of French riders went on the attack, but Gilbert responded with ease on the 7% gradients of the 3km-long climb and joined them before the summit. From there, only one more lap of the famous Paul Ricard Circuit – which since 1971 has played host to several editions of the Formula 1 French Grand Prix – remained and that favoured a regrouping with around four kilometres to go.
That didn’t change anything in the approach of Philippe, who kept a close eye on his opponents and kicked out 150 meters from the line, putting more than a bike length into Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) and Tony Gallopin (AG2R), who rounded out the podium.
“It’s very important to win so early in the season, because it’s less pressure now. This win will give me some rest and confidence ahead of my next races, which is always good. Having my boys here also made for a very nice moment, because it’s not every day that they are at a race that I win, and this is something we will never forget”, concluded Philippe, the fifth different Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider to raise his arms in the air this season.
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