967 (!) days later: Philippe Gilbert (39) rises from the dead in the Four Days of Dunkirk: “It was an eternity ago”

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Philippe Gilbert (39) is not dead and buried as a rider. On the contrary. Yesterday he found the punch of yesteryear on a thorny finish in the Four Days of Dunkirk. Of course, his enormous track record does not stand or fall with this victory – his first since September 2019 – but it says a lot about his work ethic in his twentieth and final professional season.

Hugo Coorevits

As if he had just become world champion. Smiling so broadly and with arms high in the air, Philippe Gilbert crossed the finish line. “Whether it’s a fair race, the World Cup or the Four Days of Dunkirk, winning always makes me happy,” it sounded.

Although he had forgotten that by now, because his last victory was dated September 11, 2019 in Guadalajara – or 967 days ago. Then he won two more stages in the Vuelta for Deceuninck – Quick-Step, but then the great drought started. “It’s been an eternity since I won again,” Gilbert said. “That had never happened to me.”

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Some felt sorry for the way in which the 2012 world champion had worn out his cycling shorts in recent years, others argued – without knowledge of the facts – that he was simply after his generous salary at Lotto-Soudal. The fact that Gilbert still broke his kneecap in 2020 and was therefore never the old one was conveniently forgotten.

On the January internship Gilbert showed himself eagerly on the eve of his farewell year, but afterwards he had bad luck again and became ill. “For months I couldn’t breathe normally,” he confessed yesterday. “It’s only been a few days since I feel that I’m in good shape again. Man, then this win feels good. I am still as crazy about cycling as when I started.”

Just like before

The way he unpacked yesterday was indeed reminiscent of the past. Even though the peloton of the Four Days of Dunkirk does not weigh as much in terms of quality as that of Liège-Bastogne-Liège or later the Tour, you have to do it as an approaching forties. “I had asked the team to stay well organized and to stick to the top 20. Otherwise I wouldn’t stand a chance. When Clément Russo started accelerating uphill, I was already gone and a bike length ahead. The last 250 meters I went à fond

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It was already 2005 since Gilbert once again won a stage in the Four Days of Dunkirk. “The time between those two victories may also be a record”, Gilbert laughed. “At the same time, it says everything about the duration of my career.”

On Tuesday in Maubeuge, the ex-world champion made his mark when he pointed out the insecurity of the final round to the organizer. The mayor had auctioned a few ten thousand euros to have the finish line against the zoo. “I was not amused† As an international representative of the riders I had to get out of my loft. I understand that it is very complex to organize races these days, but if you don’t say anything at a certain point, nothing will happen. I have been trying for years to convince the International Cycling Union (UCI) to install a committee that pre-inspects all competitions for safety. Take today, again there was a dangerous portion of gravel in it, but there were not too many falls. Because nothing is moving internally at the UCI, I try to get my message across in the media. But now I just want to enjoy this victory. This victory is really a liberation for me”, concluded the veteran of countless wars.

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