Holland’s biggest race had been carnage with several big names crashing out during the early parts of the day. Geraint Thomas (Sky), Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) all DNF’d as a result of crashes on the tough course with 34 climbs.

10 riders had attacked and stayed away soon after start in Maastricht, and their gap made it’s way to almost 15 minutes by the time they hit the Cauberg for the first of four times. It was only when several teams began their chase that the gap began to dwindle, and the leader’s gap had more than halved when the pace lifted 50km from the finish (see video of final 50km here).

Nicola Boem (Bardiani CSF), Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Christophe Riblon (AG2R) managed to say away but they were swept up by a seven-man chase bunch which included Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) on the final lap.

The relentless pace of the peloton ensured that everything came back together in the last 8km and with a tailwind up the Cauberg it was the favorites who came to the front and attacked at the bottom of the final ascent of the Cauberg.

Gilbert’s teammate Samuel Sanchez had kicked things off on the iconic Cauberg climb, but when he wilted Gilbert was perfectly positioned to fire off the front and passed Simon Gerrans and Alejandro Valverde as he powered over the summit. Gilbert then pressed home his advantage on the 1.8km section where he sat up in the final 50m and savoured his victory by two seconds.

Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol) made it a Belgian 1-2 in Holland, while Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) rounded out the podium in third.

“This was a particularly emotional win for me,” Gilbert said. “My wife and my kids were here for the first time in two years. So to win will be something they will never forget. I have been dreaming of this.”

Asked whether he might win all three Ardennes classics – the Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – as he did in 2011, Gilbert said: “I have started well in any case. It would be fantastic…but for now I’m just enjoying this.”

Race Results

1. be
GILBERT Philippe
BMC Racing Team
06:25:57
2. be
VANENDERT Jelle
Lotto Belisol
0:05
3. au
GERRANS Simon
Orica GreenEDGE
0:06

Photo Gallery