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Philippe Gilbert rolls back the years with emotional Four Days of Dunkirk victory

Gilbert takes the top step to end 966-day drought and guarantee one last win in retirement season.

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Philippe Gilbert wound back the clocks to an era when COVID was an unknown and Tadej Pogačar was just “some kid from Slovenia” at the Four Days of Dunkirk.

Gilbert scored his 79th pro win in the upward-tilting sprint of stage 3 of the Dunkirk race in what was his first victory in two and a half years Thursday.

“This victory comes with a lot of emotions, it’s been a while since I took a win. But I clearly haven’t forgotten how to throw my arms in the air,” a jubilant Gilbert said after the stage.

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Victory over Jason Tesson (St Michel-Auber93) and Julien Simon (TotalEnergies) landed Gilbert his first win since the breathtaking echelon stage of the Vuelta a España a whole 966 days prior.

Five months before that, the Belgian won Paris-Roubaix to put victories across four of the five historic monuments on his palmarès. It was the last springtime “Hell of the North” for three whole years in what feels a whole world away from the present-era peloton.

“It’s been a long long time since I won. The last time was 11 September 2019 so it’s a really long time – way too long. I’m happy because it’s my first win for Lotto-Soudal,” Gilbert said.

“The way I won also was nice because I had really good support from the guys and it was a nice team effort. I was happy to finish it off and sign my first win here at Four Days of Dunkirk, 17 years after my first win here in this race.”

Unlike illustrious veterans such as Alejandro Valverde or Mark Cavendish, 39-year-old Gilbert has found podiums hard to come by in the twilight of his career.

Since joining Lotto-Soudal at the start of 2020, just two top-10s at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and ninth at the 2020 Milan-San Remo provided small memories of the Gilbert of his monument-mastering heyday.

Gilbert’s win in the small French race Thursday may not be on-par with the monument and grand tour stage haul to his name. Victories across all three grand tours, the road worlds and Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Il Lombardia take some topping.

But to score one more “W” in retirement year is something special, no matter what the race.

“It’s a sign of longevity, also it’s a record between the first and second win in this race,” Gilbert said. “I’m really happy I’m going to drink with the guys tonight and celebrate like it should be.”

Gilbert could now go on to add a number 80 to his win count and score vital points for Lotto-Soudal in this crucial WorldTour relegation season.

The Lotto leader sits level on time with Human Powered Health rider Arvid de Kleijn in the Dunkirk GC with just two sprint stages and a decisive hilltop finish to come.

“Everything is still to play for,” he said. “Tomorrow we might get another bunch sprint but Saturday’s stage on and around Mont Cassel will be crucial. I know the climb from Gent-Wevelgem and it will obviously be a hard day. But with six Lotto Soudal riders still within ten seconds on GC, we still have several cards to play.”

Gilbert retires this winter.

The rest of his program is uncertain, but a 40th birthday party at his 12th and final Tour de France could be on the cards.

Every win from here on in will have weight, no matter what race.