Gilbert bags first podium of the season
Four months after his last race, the Belgian flashed again his aggressive riding style, taking third in a spectacular Vuelta a Murcia.
Quick-Step Floors honored the 38th edition of Vuelta a Murcia (208 kilometers), sending three men into a huge breakaway of 40 riders that went up the road as soon as the flag dropped in Beniel, Saturday morning. Philippe Gilbert, Bob Jungels and Pieter Serry – all making their first appearance of the season – were part of the escape, whose maximum gap stood at four minutes, before the group disintegrated on the second climb of the day, Alto la Zarzadilla, where several riders sensed a change of tempo was needed, as the peloton began to claw back time.
At the foot of Collada Bermejo, the race's most important climb, averaging 7.2% over seven kilometers, the gap of the leaders had been reduced to less than a minute and a half, so that was the cue for Gilbert and Jungels to fly away. Further back, from the bunch, a trio consisting of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and the Astana duo of Jakob Fuglsang and Luis Leon Sanchez attacked and pulled back 30 seconds.
By the time they reached the top of Bermejo, the two Quick-Step Floors riders still held a 40-second gap over the chasers, but eventually it came back together on the descent leading to Alto de Gebas, the fourth climb of the race, on whose slopes Fuglsang upped the tempo for his teammate, who soon after attacked with Valverde on his wheel. The two opened a 35-second gap on Philippe, who continued to ride strong and even managed to scratch off 15 seconds before the descent, where the strong headwind signaled the end of any hope to come back to the front.
Eventually, Gilbert crossed the line in third position, behind Valverde and Sanchez, who nabbed the win after attacking in the last kilometers and dropping his countryman. Two minutes later, a small group arrived at the finish, and from it, Pieter Serry took fifth place, followed on the same time by Bob Jungels, who was seventh in Murcia.
"I knew from the start that Sanchez and Valverde were the most dangerous riders, as they knew the roads, so that is why we tried something different. After 20 kilometers we went away together with a big group and as some riders weren't willing to share the work, we made a selection, followed by two more later in the race. Unfortunately, a strong headwind thwarted our efforts and we couldn't extend the lead", Philippe Gilbert said after his second career top 3 at the Vuelta a Murcia.
The Belgian's weekend will continue on Sunday, when he is due to ride the Clasica de Almeria, a race which despite having a flat course in the second half, has seen in the past small groups of attackers giving the slip to the sprinters and making it all the way to the line.
"On the final downhill, the three chasers bridged across and then the attacks began. When Sanchez went and Valverde followed, I tried to respond, but couldn't close the gap. They worked well together and stretched out their advantage to over a minute, while for me it was over once I hit again the strong headwinds. Still, third in my first race of the year isn't a bad result and I'm satisfied with how I felt today and already looking forward to the next races of the calendar", concluded the Ronde van Vlaanderen champion.
Luxembourg Champion Bob Jungels was another Quick-Step Floors rider satisfied with his outing in the first race of the 2018 season, where he arrived after completing an altitude camp in South Africa.
"I had no idea how I would feel after that training camp, but had good sensations from the start, despite the race being full gas. Having three riders in the front was a good situation for us, we rode aggressively and split the escape group in the crosswinds, but when the three guys came across from behind, there was nothing more to be done, as we had already spent a lot of energy by that point. Overall, I am happy with my top 10, and especially with how the legs felt after the long winter."
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