LES HERBIERS, France (AFP) —Philippe Gilbert admitted he could not have wished for more as his dream season continued with a maiden Tour de France stage win, and the yellow jersey, on Saturday.
Gilbert became only the second rider in history after Italian Davide Rebellin to sweep the hilly Ardennes Classics in April, winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne within eight days.
Having returned to the world’s premier cycling event for a fifth time, but three years after his last participation, where he came close to winning the first stage, he was determined not to miss a golden opportunity.
He came into the race as the newly crowned Belgian champion, and dyed his hair yellow to further signal his intentions for a first stage that perfectly suited his sprinting and climbing skills.
Although he seems likely to lose the race lead after Sunday’s team time trial, the Omega Pharma-Lotto star was on cloud nine Saturday.
“My season has been incredible until now — winning so many difficult and great races,” said Gilbert. “First of all winning all of them in a row — and since my victory in Flèche Wallonne I’ve won all of the races I’ve started — I think it’s some kind of record.
“What is also important for me is my team. I never win alone. It’s important for me to thank them. Without them it would not be possible to achieve what I have.”
Gilbert achieved one childhood dream earlier this season when he won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the world’s oldest classic. He grew up in a village on the racecourse.
“Liège-Bastogne-Liège was a dream I had since I was born. Another dream was to win a stage of the Tour de France and wear the yellow jersey,” he said. “I have had that dream since I was a very young rider and I think it’s the same for every young rider, to one day have that yellow jersey on his shoulders.
“I think right now it’s difficult to realize what’s happened today and I think I will start realizing only when I go to the hotel.”