Cycling: Philippe Gilbert ends Belgium's wait for glory as British young guns fire
A devastating lone charge by Classics star Philippe Gilbert in yesterday's world championships saw the 30-year-old Belgian succeed Mark Cavendish as the winner of one day road-racing's most-coveted title.
But while Cavendish had gained the right to wear the rainbow-striped jersey of world champion in a fast and furious uphill bunch sprint last year, Gilbert covered the last two kilometres alone and pumping the air in anticipation of his victory.
Gilbert had stormed away from the pack at the foot of the last ascent of the Cauberg climb and he clinched the title to huge roars of support from thousands of Belgian fans who poured across the nearby frontier to egg on one of their most popular sportsmen. As the world's most cycling-mad nation, the wait for another win for Belgium since Tom Boonen took the rainbow title in Madrid in 2005 has been interminable – and Gilbert's huge grin as he crossed the line was testament to how hugely valued he knew his victory would be back home.
"I'll watch the images 10 times to engrain it in my memory but it was a great moment," Gilbert said afterwards.
Great Britain's leader yesterday, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, had never raced at a senior world championships before but he responded perfectly to the extra pressure on his shoulders and was in the thick of the action until the foot of the last climb. He finished 19th, a solid result for the Devon climber in the 267km event, a distance well beyond anything he has ever raced before.
Cavendish abandoned mid-race after working hard for the team in the first part of a course that did him no favours. The worlds is the Manx sprinter's last event of the year, British Cycling sources said, with a decision on his future team for 2013 likely to be high on his list of short-term priorities. Yesterday, though, Cavendish said a decision had yet to be made on that.
As for Britain's strong all-round performance in the world's road-race, Great Britain principal Dave Brailsford said: "A lot of the Grand Tour riders we knew were fatigued but they did what they could and Mark's ride was a fantastic way to end his time in the jersey.
"The young guns took over, Tiernan-Locke being up there in the final of his longest ever race – that's what you want to see. We can take a lot out of that."
For Great Britain's national team, this represented the first major post-Olympic international tournament – as well as the first step towards Rio, for that matter. And, as Brailsford pointed out, Britain's next generation are clearly already on the up.
"What's really exciting is we've had such a brilliant season at the high end with the Tour and Olympics but to get two junior golds [in women's racing] and a fifth today with John Dibben [in the men's junior road-race] is very important, too. It's no longer a question of us hanging on there at racing at all these levels. The engine's running smoothly and whatever it is in road cycling, these days we're part of the race."
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