VALKENBURG, Netherlands (AP) -- Philippe Gilbert of Belgium won the Amstel Gold Race for the third time on Sunday, clinching the 49th edition in the hills of the southern Netherlands.
Racing for BMC, Gilbert broke away from the peloton about three kilometers (two miles) from the finish during the race's final steep ascent of the Cauberg hill, and then held on for victory as others tried to narrow the gap.
Gilbert's win in the 251-kilometer race followed his triumphs in 2010 and 2011. He finished in a time of 6 hours, 25 minutes, 57 seconds.
Fellow Belgian Jelle Vanendert was second, and Australia's Simon Gerrans third, ahead of Alejandro Valverde of Spain.
''I went for it at the steepest part and was happy I could hold on to my lead,'' Gilbert said.
''Is it the same feeling as being World Champion? No. But I'm really happy winning my third here.''
Gilbert was the 2012 winner of the UCI Road World Championships.
Joaquim Rodriguez and Andy Schleck pulled out after an early crash. In the opening phase of the race, a 10-man group broke away and opened up a gap with the rest of the peloton that had expanded to 15 minutes.
But Valverde and his Movistar team worked to close the gap, and a pack of 50 racers was complete again with seven kilometers remaining.
''The second half of the race was very fast because nobody wanted to ride (so far) behind that breakaway,'' Gilbert told VRT television.
Valverde and Gerrans each attacked on the Cauberg before Gilbert's challenge. But once the Belgian began his push neither could hold him. Gilbert summited first with a clear lead and was not seriously threatened in the final 1.8-kilometer descent to the finish line.
Asked by Belgian television whether he might win all three Ardennes classics - the Amstel Gold Race, La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege - as he did in 2011, Gilbert said ''I've started well in any case.''
''It would be fantastic...but for now I'm just enjoying this.''