The Belgian has endured a difficult season and only recorded his first win of the campaign when he claimed stage 12 of the Vuelta a España. While Gilbert dismissed the notion of the curse of the rainbow jersey, he admitted that it does not make the task of winning any easier.
“I’m not a believer, I don’t have any religion if not that of a job well done,” Gilbert told L’Équipe. “But after a while, I said to myself that there was something about this jersey, as though it blocked me in my quest for more success.
“It’s not a cursed jersey, but the problem is that it doesn’t pass unnoticed in a peloton where everybody is looking at it. In the finale of a race, nine times out of ten, there’ll be someone on your wheel when you attack.
“It’s like a point of pride to go after the world champion. It’s not about the person – it’s not Philippe Gilbert they’re watching, but the world champion. This jersey is a symbol unto itself.”
Gilbert, of course, suffered a similar drought in 2012, and claimed his first two victories of the season at the Vuelta a España before adding the world title in Valkenburg shortly afterwards. In spite of the issues that come with wearing the rainbow jersey, Gilbert is keen for history to repeat itself in Florence.
“I didn’t think it would be such a burden to wear it. Obviously, I’ll be the last person to complain about it, because it was a dream, but it has an incredible influence on your style of riding,” said Gilbert, who has grown in belief since winning at the Vuelta.
“That is going to give me more confidence for the Worlds in Florence next week. I love this jersey and I want to keep it. Since the start of July, it’s been my sole objective, and I knew that I would build for it through the Eneco Tour and the Vuelta.”
Gilbert finished in 10th place at the GP de Wallonie on Wednesday and will continue his fine-tuning for the Worlds at the GP Impanis-Van Petegem on Saturday and the GP Isbergues on Sunday. Twelve months ago, the world team time trial championship was his final competitive outing ahead of the Worlds road race.
“I’m not disappointed at all with my tenth place,” Gilbert told La Dernière Heure after the GP de Wallonie. “My legs are good. I did my best and this test was convincing.”