Gilbert wins 1-day classic Walloon Arrow

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HUY, Belgium (AP)

Belgium's Philippe Gilbert won his third classic in eight days Wednesday, pulling away to win the Walloon Arrow on a closing climb in which Tour de France champion Alberto Contador was never a factor.

No one could match Gilbert as he swept to the front with 300 meters to go on the steep Wall of Huy to finish the 123-mile run through the pastures and hills of southern Belgium in 4 hours, 54 minutes, 57 seconds. Joaquin Rodriguez was runner-up for the second year in a row, and fellow Spaniard Samuel Sanchez took third place.

Alexander Vinokourov was fourth, while Contador, who came into the race with a cold, placed 11th.

Gilbert was coming off victories in the Amstel Gold race Sunday and the Brabant Arrow last week. Going three for three in the classics makes Gilbert the favorite for the Liege-Bastogne-Liege Sunday, one of the biggest races of the season.

After winning two tough classics over the past week, Gilbert said went into the Walloon Arrow aiming for an easy ride ahead of Sunday's race. But when he felt increasingly good and saw other riders falter or let themselves get boxed in on the final climb, he grabbed the opportunity to pull away.

''What a surprise. I didn't expect this at all,'' Gilbert said. ''Even with 10 kilometers to go, I didn't believe in myself. Then with 300 meters to go, I made the break and it was pure happiness afterward.''

Contador was struggling with a cold in the days before the race and it showed in the final climb. It was his only Belgian classic this year since he wants to focus on the Giro d'Italia, which starts May 7.

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