A new, leaner Philippe Gilbert stormed to victory at the Amstel Gold Race, and then set his sights on a second Ardennes cycling treble.
It was his third victory on the 251.8km course that began in Maastricht and ended in Valkenburg on Sunday with a demonstration of Gilbert’s strength after he accelerated away from the competition on the final Cauberg climb.
But having done the treble of Ardennes Classics in 2011 – he also won the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege – the Belgian believes his new slimline physique and the strength of his BMC team could help him make history by becoming the first person ever to do the treble twice.
Already the 31-year-old shares the distinction of doing the treble with Italian David Rebellin, but the 31-year-old is not ruling out another such feat.
“Three years ago I was a bit stronger than now because I had already won at the beginning of the season,” he said, referring to his incredible 2011 in which he won 18 races throughout the season, starting with the Montepaschi Strade Bianche in early March.
“But I was in a different situation. Now, in stage races I have to work for teammates such as (Australian Cadel) Evans, (American Teejay) van Garderen and now (Spaniard Samuel) Sanchez, so I have to put an X (to rule out) often next to my stage wins.
“But that’s part of the game, sometimes I have to work for them but like (Sunday), they worked for me.
“Everyone’s a winner. That’s why I win fewer races but it’s part of the game.
“We’re a big team with ambitions in many races, so everyone has to work hard.”
Australian Simon Gerrans, the 2012 Milan-San Remo winner who finished third on Sunday, believes Gilbert is capable of snatching another Ardennes treble.
“He’s off to a good start and he’s halfway there so anything’s possible,” said the Orica-GreenEdge rider.
“When Philippe rode away to the finish he was obviously the strongest guy.”