It was 2011, the year Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Philippe Gilbert accomplished what only one other man had done – he completed the ‘Ardennes treble’, winning the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the same week.
The Walloon was all-conquering that year – before he had even turned up to the first of the trio he had won Strade Bianche, a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico and placed third in Milan-Sanremo. A ninth place in the Ronde van Vlaanderen only confirmed his form, just weeks before the final Classics of spring.
Only there was another race, a fourth part of the Ardennes challenge. It may be just another race for many, but not Gilbert. The controversial Davide Rebellin is his only equal in the pantheon of Ardennes legends – in 2004, he became the first rider to complete the triple – but only Gilbert has won all four.
Brabantse Pijl (Flèche Brabançonne to Walloons) is the race. It’s often overlooked, taking place in the midweek before Amstel Gold, but it’s a race that Gilbert holds in high regard. He was quick to point this out when we asked about his Ardennes treble in issue 53.
“I actually won four races: there was Flèche Brabançonne too – it’s also important to mention this, I think. So I’d won four races in ten days. I was happy.”
Like the Scheldeprijs, with which Brabantse Pijl swapped dates a few years back, it’s amongst a group of one-day races that pass many fans by. All four have a strong history and famed winners but the packed modern cycling calendar means they are now largely overshadowed by larger events.
A varied group of riders, including Freddy Maertens, Edwig van Hooydonck, Michele Bartoli and Óscar Freire won the race before Gilbert took the first of his two victories. Impressive names, but how many have read about their triumphs in this race?
The race was bought by the Flanders Classics organisation in 2010. Immediately, boss Wouter Vandenhaute moved the finish to Overijse, south-east of Brussels, so that the route would pass his house on the finishing circuits. It’s hard to imagine another race’s owner attempting to transform it into a personal criterium.
So is the race’s low-key status merited? It’s younger than the other Ardennes Classics, with the exception of the Amstel Gold Race, but it’s also one of the more exciting. As can often be the case with smaller races, it feels like more of an open contest than those that follow, where riders don’t wait until the final climb to make their move.
Another factor that contributes to the action is that it’s not quite as tough as the bigger-name races, in spite of the nineteen climbs traversed on four laps of the final circuit. It’s seen as a build-up race for the majority of the peloton, meaning for some second-stringers, it’s a chance to make their mark.
This updated article was originally published in 2015