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Book Excerpt:

Cycling's World Championships: The Inside Story

By Les Woodland

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This excerpt is from chapter nine of Les Woodland's book about the Cycling's World Championships. It's available in both print, Kindle eBook & Audiobook versions. For more information about Cycling's World Championships: The Inside Story and how to get your copy, click here


2012: Philippe Gilbert the peace-maker

“Nobody’s ever a hero in Belgium,” Freddy Maertens once said. Meaning that however good you are, there’s always someone to say you’re not. Except that Philippe Gilbert was different. Not only did he not have the buzzing mosquito battle that Maertens and Eddy Merckx had, but like Merckx and unlike Maertens, he is neither clearly of the Dutch-speaking north or the French-speaking south.

And if that seems unimportant then it’s worth reading a history of Belgium.

True enough, his first language is French. But he comes from neither north nor south but the eastern extreme of Liège, which is itself a curiosity because it has an enclave in which the official language is neither French nor Dutch but German. So Gilbert spoke French and Dutch equally well with only a tiny accent to betray him. Like Merckx, he could be claimed by both sides and be embraced as a symbol of a future, socially united Belgium.

Cycling's World Championships

In 2012 he won the world championship just over the border in the hilly Limburg province of Holland, where the Amstel Gold Race wriggles. The race rode 105 kilometers through southern Limburg before starting ten laps of a circuit to complete 267 kilometers just beyond the Cauberg.

Gilbert attacked the final time up the Cauberg, where the Amstel finishes and which is 1.5-kilometer long climb and up to 12 percent, and won Belgium’s first road championship title since Tom Boonen in Madrid in 2005. The race marked a turning, because he’d won only two races all season. But it was also made for him, since he’d won the Amstel in 2010 and 2011.

The Italians had wanted to get in first, sending Luca Paolini to lead out Vincenzo Nibali. At one moment there were four Belgians on Nibali’s wheel. But the Italians went too soon and faded and Gilbert rode by on his big ring.

“The Belgians did outstanding work today,” he said. “We deserved to win. I was well placed. I looked back quickly and then I took off.”

Philippe Gilbert

The race is Philippe Gilbert's

For more information about Cycling's World Championships: The Inside Story and how to get your copy, click here