Belgian one-day specialist Philippe Gilbert handed his Française des Jeux team the ideal farewell gift by winning the Paris-Tours one-day classic on Sunday.
Gilbert's first victory in the 102nd edition of the race, held over 252km, comes only weeks before he ends his five-year stay with the French outfit by moving to Silence-Lotto.
The Belgian had been among a four-strong group of frontrunners that was being hunted down by several chasing pelotons inside the closing kilometres. But they worked together to keep the pack at bay.
After crossing the red flag signalling the final kilometre Gilbert waited patiently before jumping out from behind the wheel of teammate Mickael Delage, who will follow him to Silence for next season. He coasted over the finish line in triumph, with fellow Belgian Jan Kuyckx nipping ahead of French duo Sebastien Turgot and Nicolas Vogondy to take second place.
A first peloton came over the finish line a few seconds later.
The early stages of the races were brought to life by a four-man group which broke away after just seven kilometres.
American David Zabriskie then raced ahead to join up and they went on to build a lead of over 11mins on the peloton by the 67 km mark.
By the closing stages the peloton's increased pace virtually condemned the frontrunners. Frenchman Cyril Lemoine was the last man standing, but he was reeled in by a 10-man chase group after a small climb around 25 km from the finish.
An acceleration by Turgot 10km further on prompted Vogondy, Delage then Kuyckx to jump on his wheel. Gilbert then closed the gap to the leaders after following, then passing Italian threat Filippo Pozzato on the penultimate climb of the day.
On the 2.6km home straight so coveted by the fast men in the bunch sprints, Vogondy attacked inside the final 300 metres. But Gilbert, afforded a timely breather by Delage's back wheel, proved too strong in the end.
The 26-year-old Gilbert came close to winning Paris-Tours, the penultimate one-day classic of the season ahead of the Tour of Lombardy, in 2005 and 2007.
Since joining Française des Jeux in 2003 he has been one of the team's most coveted, and respected riders.
For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.
|1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel|Française des Jeux)|
|2 Jan Kuyckx (Bel|Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner)|
|3 Sébastien Turgot (Fra|Bouygues Telecom)|
|4 Nicolas Vogondy (Fra|Agritubel)|
|5 Tyler Farrar (USA|Garmin Chipotle - H30)|
|6 Robbie McEwen (Aus|Silence-Lotto)|
|7 Erik Zabel (Ger|Team Milram)|
|8 Daniele Bennati (Ita|Liquigas)|
|9 Kristof Goddaert (Bel|Topsport Vlaanderen)|
|10 Tom Boonen (Bel|Quick Step)|
© AFP & BikeRadar 2008