Belgian Classics contender Philippe Gilbert did not compete with the big sprinters in the bunch gallop of Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, but still affirmed his fitness was where it should be one week ahead of the Tour of Flanders.
The Omega Pharma-Lotto rider said that race circumstances were not to his advantage, favouring a mass sprint finish in Wevelgem won by his rival Tom Boonen (Quick Step). "There was no wind, or when there was, it wasn't favourable," he told La Dernière Heure. "The race was not selective enough. During 120 kilometres, there was no race, so to speak. I'll be cruel, but if there hadn't been any crashes, we'd have finished with 200 riders in the sprint!"
Even the series of Belgian 'bergs' that were featured in the finale - to be raced twice - did not make a difference. "It was impossible to test myself in view of the Tour of Flanders. But I know where I stand. I accelerated at the first climb of the Kemmel. The second time around, as I had just punctured, I was too far away. But I wouldn't have made everything break up anyway, it would have been senseless," he added.
Still, Gilbert went with the attacks he deemed important, even if they were reeled in by the sprinters' teams shortly afterwards. "I jumped when the group with Hushovd and Steegmans went. I thought it could be a key moment. But, before I punctured, not everyone wanted to collaborate."
Finally, Gilbert put himself at the service of his team-mate André Greipel in the hope of a bunch sprint victory. He drove hard at the front of the bunch to catch the last four-man breakaway, but also stayed out of the final action in order to avoid any risk of crashing.
"I told André that it was out of the question that I take any risks one week prior to the Tour of Flanders and that, in the last three kilometres, he shouldn't stick to my wheel."
Looking forward the all-important Ronde coming up next Sunday, Gilbert echoed many observers' sentiments that Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek), after his incredibly strong showing again at the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, was one of the event's great favourites.
"What Cancellara did on Saturday was impressive. Man to man, it will be difficult to beat him - perhaps it can be done tactically," Gilbert added.