The 267 km race in the Dutch province of Limburg took the riders from Maastricht to Valkenburg and included several climbs on the hilly countryside. There were 10 final laps of 16.1 km with the Bemelerberg and Cauberg to make the race hard.
In windy but dry weather conditions, Philippe Gilbert came 5 seconds ahead of Evald Boasson Hagen of Norway, who took the silver, beating Spain's Alejandro Valverde, who had to be content with the bronze.
The race was rather tactical and there were no real breakaways in the final laps, also because of the headwind in the stretch after the Bemelerberg and before the crucial climb of the Cauberg (small photo).
This meant that the Belgian squad, which also included a strong Greg Van Avermaet, Björn Leukemans and Jurgen Roelandts among others, had it all under control. A pack of an estimated 30 riders started the final climb of the Cauberg. Philippe Gilbert had shown on previous occasions that this is his cup of tea, winning the Dutch classic Amstel Gold Race on the Cauberg last year.
The Belgian accelerated and nobody was able to follow him. Russia's Aleksandr Kolobnev came close, but couldn't close the gap. Gilbert stood strong in the final 1,800 metres after the climb. The Belgian even head some time to celebrate before he crossed the finish line.
It's the first rainbow jersey for Belgium in 7 years, after Tom Boonen in Madrid in 2005. Philippe Gilbert takes over the jersey from Britain's Mark Cavendish, for whom this course was too hilly.
"Storming to the finish at 60 KPH"
"This is very special to me," Philippe Gilbert told reporters after the race. "I've wanted this for such a long time. It's also special because I don't live very far from here, in the Liège region. And my family-in-law is from Eisden in Holland."
Gilbert insisted on thanking his team mates, who did a good job keeping the pack together in the final laps. "We deservedly took the world title. Bjorn Leukemans did a great job for me, bringing me to the final Cauberg climb in perfect position. I looked behind me and I saw I had a gap of 10 to12 metres, a similar situation when I won the Gold Race on the Cauberg."
"The Cauberg really suits me, this course was also my cup of tea. And I knew that after the top, the final 1,800 metres to the finish were okay, with the wind in the back. I did 60 KPH in the final stretch, can you imagine?"
"I still can't grasp what just happened", Philippe Gilbert concluded.