• Philippe Gilbert powers to a solo victory in the opening stage of Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The 34-year-old stole the opening stage honours in the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde after a spectacular attack on the mythical Muur-Kapelmuur. Australian Luke Durbridge (Orica-Scott) finished second.
Cycling Central

Quick-Step Floors
29 Mar 2017 - 10:04 AM  UPDATED 29 Mar 2017 - 10:07 AM

Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) became the first Belgian Champion to win a stage at Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde since 2005, following an audacious display on the queen stage of the race. This was due to an equally impressive amount of work from team-mate Dries Devenyns, who laid the foundation for the victory on a day that suited Philippe to the ground. 

There were 11 classified climbs packed between De Panne and Zottegem, on a 206km-long route.  In a perfectly-executed team strategy, Devenyns booked a place in a group that got clear 80 kilometres from the finish and patiently waited for Philippe to bridge across. He did so with a vicious attack on the Muur van Geraardsbergen.

The newly-formed group enjoyed a slim lead of just 20 seconds at first, but thanks to some huge and relentless turns from Devenyns, the gap extended to 40 seconds inside the final 30 kilometres.

The chasing group was led by four Katusha riders. Despite having the numbers, they couldn’t match Dries’ efforts, who allowed Philippe to start the Muur with a healthy margin of half a minute. On the steep cobbles of the legendary hill which has seen many great champions emerge throughout history, Gilbert attacked without even getting out of the saddle and distanced all the riders of the main group, crossing the top with five seconds in hand. 

Only 16 kilometres separated him from the finish after Kapelmuur, and on the long and wide roads to Zottegem, which included one last climb; Klemhoutstraat. A confident Gilbert never looked behind and extended his lead on former Australian time trial champion, Luke Durbridge, who was left fighting for second place.

Gilbert arrived at the finish line solo and celebrated his first success since conquering the Belgian title last June. Durbridge finished 17 seconds behind the Belgian champion, with Simone Consonni (UAE Team Emirates) rounding out the stage one podium in third.

“To finally get a victory in this beautiful jersey, and for Quick-Step Floors, makes me very happy!” said Gilbert.

“I want to thank to my team, and especially to Dries, whose hard-work at the front was quintessential. Now I’m at the top of the overall standings, but I know it won’t be easy to defend my position, so we’ll just take it day by day,” he added. Gilbert now leads the general classification of the three-day race by 22 seconds.

At the end of the week, Philippe will ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen for the seventh time and he is aware this win will make him a marked rider: “I know that people will now say that I’m one of the favourites for De Ronde and it’s no secret that I would like to win it. 

“My condition is good, I look forward to the race, but to be frank, the most important thing is for the team to win there. We have many options and in-form riders, and it will be all about playing the right card in the right moment.”