Philippe Gilbert’s phenomenal 2011 has been capped with the Belgian rider receiving the Vélo d’Or from France’s Vélo Magazine. Launched in 1992, the Vélo d’Or is now widely regarded as the most prestigious of cycling’s end-of-season awards.
Now headed to BMC Racing, the Belgian’s performances for Omega Pharma-Lotto season saw the 29-year-old top the UCI WorldTour ranking. During the year, he also won the Belgian national road race championship for the first time, as well as the time trial title.
Perhaps the highlight of Gilbert’s season on the road was his becoming only the second man to achieve the Ardennes Classics hat-trick of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Amstel Gold Race and the Fleche Wallonne – the only other rider to have done that was the Italian Davide Rebellin, who returned to the sport this year after a two-year doping ban.
Among the other one-day races that Gilbert won this year were the Montepaschi Strade Bianche, the Clásica de San Sebastián and the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec, while in the Tour de France, he wore the yellow jersey for a day after winning the opening stage at Mont des Alouettes.
Subsequently, he would also don the green and polka dot jerseys, and even as late as Stage 13, the penultimate day in the Pyrenees, he could be found in the top ten of the general classification, something even his most ardent fans would not have expected.
In winning the Vélo d’Or, Gilbert’s total of 89 points from the votes of a panel of international journalists put him comfortably ahead of Tour de France champion and future team mate Cadel Evans, on 73 points.
World champion Mark Cavendish, the man who took the lead off Gilbert in the green jersey competition at the Tour on Stage 11, was for once a distant third on 54 points. The Manxman remains the only Briton to have appeared in the top three of the Vélo d’Or – previously, he was second behind Alberto Contador in 2009.
Among current riders, Contador has won the award three times, having previously been voted first in 2007 and 2008, while Tom Boonen – the only Belgian besides Gilbert to have won – triumphed in 2006. Fabian Cancellara won in 2010.
In a separate award for the top French rider of the season, Thomas Voeckler, who wore the maillot jaune for ten days, took the plaudits ahead of Europcar team mate Pierre Rolland, winner of the best young rider’s jersey at the Tour and, on the day Voeckler’s GC ambitions evaporated, the Alpe d’Huez stage.
The best young rider award went to Liquigas-Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, who last month won three stages of the Vuelta a Espana at the age of just 21 to round off a year in which he won both the general and points classifications at the Tours of Poland and Sardinia, and the points classification in the Tours of Switzerland and California.
The Slovak rider pipped Team Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen, winner of two stages in July's Tour de France, by just one point.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.