Philippe Gilbert – Cancellara Part Deux?

Fotoreporter Sirotti


While watching the video of Philippe Gilbert methodically dispatching of Bjorn Leukemans to win Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl, a thought occurred to me: is Gilbert about to become the Ardennes equivalent of Fabian Cancellara?

In other words, has the Belgian displayed such superior form that it will be impossible for him to avoid the stalemate-inducing, check-down tactics (at least among the favorites) that effectively prevented Cancellara from winning Flanders and Roubaix?

Consider the evidence, with a win in the E3 Prijs that left little room for doubting his fitness, Fabian Cancellara cemented himself at the top of every other team’s hit list. He would get no favors from in Flanders and Roubaix, even if it meant—in the case of teams such as Quick-Step—cutting-off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

Now Gilbert—already one of the best riders in the world—has won the final Amstel-Ardennes warm-up seemingly with one hand tied behind has back. He most certainly heads to the Amstel Gold Race (a race he won last year) as the top favorite to repeat his win, but now will bear the burden—along with his team—of controlling the race from the outset.

Luckily, Gilbert’s style is the complete anti-thesis to Cancellara’s—he attacks relentlessly, and demeanor that ultimately force his rivals to put up or shut-up as it’s hard to mark a rider out of a race when you can’t follow his accelerations. But the question is still worth asking: before the races have even started, has Gilbert already lost?

Share your thoughts below.


About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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6 Responses to Philippe Gilbert – Cancellara Part Deux?

  1. Mattio says:

    Gilbert getting Cancellara'd sounds a lot like asking if the whole peloton will Pozzato him.

  2. touriste-routier says:

    While he will be marked, I believe the Ardennes parcours will offer more opportunities to attack than the cobbled classics. His nature as a barodeur will take advantage of this. Whether it works for him or not doesn't matter. I think we'll see some great racing over the next 9 days.

  3. grolby says:

    No doubt he'll be closely marked, but both his style and the fact that he's won before when marked as the top favorite – see Lombardia, last fall – makes me think this is less of a problem for him than Cancellara. Also, as Touriste-Routier points out, the Ardennes races are a different kettle of fish.

    The other thing is that Cancellara, while not a complete dummy, is also not the savviest rider in the bunch, preferring to use brute force rather than cunning as his principal tool. Gilbert, although he is an incredibly aggressive rider, is one of the most tactically astute riders around. He applies those brutal accelerations with a great deal of precision, and seldom leaves himself exposed to a counterattack while he is recovering. Yeah, it's definitely a tough ask, but Gilbert is capable of pulling it off. He's been knocking on the door of a truly huge win for a while, now. Maybe this will be the year he gets Liege.

  4. Adam says:

    The tactics are totally different. Take the extreme example; Contador is the Cancellara in the mountains, you know he's the strongest and going to attack for the win. But the nature of climbing – with pitch being more important than drafting – means that you can't mark him out of a race. Unfortunatly for Fabian, Roubaix is flat, so if you sit on his wheel all day you can mark him out of it.
    In the Ardennes, you can mark Gilbert, but if he's in front of you in sight of the line on an uphill pitch, he's going to win.

  5. Rex says:

    Also the field at the Ardennes is filled with favorites who have all been winning. They just haven't been racing the classics. Vinokourov took a dominant win, Gesink won the tour of Oman, Contador has been winning everything that he chooses to, the Schlecks have a very strong squad supporting them and a history of winning these races. I just don't think that he will be marked as closely as Cancellara was for the cobbled classics. There are several other very strong riders to pay attention to in the hills that just haven't been on the radar yet because the focus has been on the cobbles. The Ardennes are just too different from the cobbled classics and I think that Gilbert will be given a fair bit of freedom. As much as I want him to win, I'm just not sure that he is as far above everyone as Cancellara was anyway. We'll just have to wait until Sunday.

  6. Mattio says:

    I think Gilbert is as far above everyone as Cancellara, but only in races that are perfect for him – like Adam said, if it's uphill with the finish line in sight, it's Gilbert's. MSR, de Ronde, etc – those are all races that are a lot harder for Gilbert to win. He'll keep trying, and he'll get one someday. But it will definitely be interesting to see what effect the form he showed at BP will have.

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