Gilbert narrowly misses stage win at homeSAMUEL PETREQUIN, AP Sports WriterThe Associated Press
SERAING, Belgium -- A whole region was cheering Philippe Gilbert to the top of the 2.4-kilometer climb which ended the Tour de France's first stage on Sunday.
With its undulating route taking the peloton through the Ardennes hills and its final steep climb, the stage looked tailor-made for one-day classics specialist Gilbert.
However, riding in front of tens of thousands of home fans, Gilbert ended a disappointing fourth after being delayed by a collision with another rider.
Gilbert is from nearby Belgian town Verviers and had carefully previewed the 198-kilometer stage from Liege to Seraing this spring. After the collision he managed to stay on his bike but had to dig deep into his physical reserves to stay in contention.
He ultimately fell back when his rivals stepped up the pace, with cycling's new wonder Peter Sagan of Slovakia winning the stage.
"It was extremely nervous today and we saw a lot of crashes," said Gilbert, who is still chasing his first win this year following an impressive 2011 season which saw him win 18 races.
"Someone hit my back wheel and I thought I was going to fall, but fortunately I didn't break my bike."
After the incident, Gilbert found himself at the rear of the peloton and weaved his way back to the front, but his efforts took their toll in the final climb of the day.
"I had to take risks ... in the last two kilometers," he said. "I managed to come back quickly, but at the end of the day I missed out (on) the stage win."
When race leader Fabian Cancellara surged ahead in the steepest part of the final climb, Sagan and Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway were the only two riders to follow. Gilbert won the bunch sprint from the remaining peloton.
"I can't be happy with this fourth place," Gilbert said. "I was close but not close enough. The others were really strong. When they set off, I could not follow."
Gilbert joined the BMC Racing team of defending Tour champion Cadel Evans from the Belgian outfit Omega Pharma at the end of last season. The move has not paid off so far as he is still looking for a maiden win under his new colors.
Monday's second stage to Tournai _ the last one finishing in Belgium this year before the race enters France _ features a flat profile unlikely to suit his qualities. But Gilbert is looking for another opportunity to give his home fans something to cheer.
"The fans' support has been incredible and a lot of riders joked about it throughout the day," Gilbert said. "Those are incredible moments to live."