VALKENBURG, Netherlands -- Philippe Gilbert of Belgium sprinted away on the closing Cauberg climb for victory in the men's road race Sunday at the Road Cycling World Championships, winning again on a hill he dominates like few other riders.
Gilbert, who has twice won the Amstel Gold Race in the same hilly Dutch province and finishing with the same climb, showed his experience by waiting patiently before powering away from a large group, punching the air as he crossed the line on his own.
"I had time to enjoy those last 200 metres," he said.
Gilbert lives nearby and knows the course well, winning back-to-back Amstel Gold Race titles in 2010 and 2011.
"I'm a local boy so it is incredible," he said.
Gilbert is a one-day classic specialist who eats up small, steep hills like those in Sunday's race. He said he knew his form was good after winning two stages in the Spanish Vuelta a few weeks ago, both on stages similar to Sunday's race.
"I profited from a course that suited me really well," he said.
The diminutive Belgian burst away with just over two kilometres to race. His powerful kick left his opponents fighting for the minor medals instead of sprinting for gold on the flat final straight.
Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway was second and Alejandro Valverde of Spain third.
David Veilleux of Cap Rouge, Que., finished 83rd, two minutes 53 seconds behind Gilbert.
Sprint specialist Boasson Hagen said he was a little too far behind Gilbert when the Belgian made his move.
"I'm really happy to get silver," the Norwegian said. "It was the best I could get today."
The peloton kept up a strength-sapping pace throughout the 267-kilometre race, preventing any serious breakaways and setting up the thrilling finish.
Gilbert crossed the line in six hours 10 minutes 41 seconds, to become the first Belgian world champion since Tom Boonen in 2005. Boonen also looked in good shape to challenge on Sunday, but could not go with his teammate in the closing stages and ended 12th.
Boasson Hagen was four seconds back and Valverde five seconds behind the Belgian.
Defending champion Mark Cavendish of Britain dropped out midway through the gruelling race after riding more than 100 kilometres at or near the front of the main peloton to help his Britain teammates.
The sprinter said he knew before he started that the hilly course meant he could not repeat as champion.
"When they counted down (at the start) there was one minute to go and I was like 'I've got one minute left as world champion,"' he said, sitting on the steps of his team bus.
Cavendish's fellow Briton Bradley Wiggins, who had already won the Tour de France and Olympic time trial this year, also dropped out well before the finish.
Thousands of Belgian fans had crossed the border just a few kilometres (miles) from the finishing line to cheer on their powerful national team and Gilbert said their support spurred him on. The roar as he crossed the line almost matched the cheers that greeted Dutchwoman Marianne Vos' victory Saturday in the women's road race.
"When you see the flag of your country every 200 metres along the circuit, it's good for your motivation," Gilbert said.