Cycling: Philippe Gilbert says bike celebration was special after Tour of Flanders win

Belgian rider Philippe Gilbert crossing the finish line to win the 101st edition of the Tour of Flanders cycling race in Oudenaarde, Belgium, on April 2, 2017.
Belgian rider Philippe Gilbert crossing the finish line to win the 101st edition of the Tour of Flanders cycling race in Oudenaarde, Belgium, on April 2, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

OUDENAARDE, BELGIUM (AFP) - Philippe Gilbert said he wanted to do something special to celebrate his Tour of Flanders victory as he walked across the finish line holding his bike above his head.

The 34-year-old Belgian champion had come to the end of a daring 55km-long solo breakaway to win the prestigious 261km 'Monument' one-day cobbled classic race.

Looking back over his shoulder he could see a group of three chasers a few hundred metres behind.

With victory assured, he stopped just before the line, climbed off his bicycle, hoisted it high in the air and walked across the line with a beaming smile.

"Until two kilometres to go I wasn't really sure I could resist the guys behind because they were coming a little back," said the Quick Step Floors rider. "I was really focusing on my effort until almost the last kilometre. Then in the long straight I could see the finish line at the end.

"I was looking back and I saw I still had a gap so I thought: 'I will do something special'. "I thought this will be a nice picture with the bike in the air and the jersey stretched - something special."

Gilbert had broken clear on the Oude-Kwaremont climb with around 55km to ride and initially he admitted he was not sure what to do as his team had not planned for him to pull clear so far from home.

First, Gilbert's Quick Step team-mate Tom Boonen accelerated and then when he put in a dig, he quickly found himself with daylight behind his rear wheel.

"Tom went full gas and really did a big pull. He did the first part and then I was taking over, shifting to a big gear when it was flatter.

"Then there was a little chicane in the village, I was looking back and saw I had a gap. "I didn't know what to do! I saw they were pretty far back so I was asking (my team) what to do and they said: 'just go'!

"I was trying but there was a long way to go. I was trying to go fast but not crazy."

Gilbert has won many big races during his career including two other prestigious 'Monuments' - Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Giro di Lombardia.

He has also won stages at all three Grand Tours but he said one memory stands out above all others: winning the world title in 2012.

"It's hard to say, every big victory like this is nice," he said. "When I won the worlds it was something really special - I think this will always stay the biggest win of my life but winning Liege and this one in Flanders is really nice."

Behind him the chase was on with Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet and world champion Peter Sagan on the charge alongside Oliver Naesen.

They had around a minute to make up with 17km left but were looking strong until Sagan caught a jacket draped over the spectator barriers and caused all three to crash.

Van Avermaet managed to get up and still finish second, 29 seconds behind Gilbert, but Sagan's race was ruined.

"I thought we would catch him but destiny didn't want that," said the Slovak, the Flanders winner last year. "Whether it was my fault, I don't know. I didn't clip the barriers, if I had I would have gone down immediately.

"Something pulled my bike back and then the others crashed into the back of me."

Despite his crash, Van Avermaet, who had been the form rider this spring, winning three cobbled classics already, was gracious.

"I was aiming for the win but it didn't work out. I was riding a very strong race," he said. "Phil deserves the win."