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Philippe Gilbert (BMC)
Defending champion Gilbert "getting better"
On the eve of last year's Brabantse Pijl - or Flèche Barabançonne in French - Philippe Gilbert already had three victories to his name and was about to achieve a legendary quadruple by taking the Brabantse Pijl as well as all three Ardennes Classics that come after it. This season however, the Belgian is struggling to come up to form following several health issues: a virus, then a tooth infection and a crash at Milan-San Remo.
Still, his BMC team are hopeful that the Belgian will return to his former level and has lined him up as co-leader with Greg Van Avermaet for the 2012 Brabantse Pijl, taking place on Wednesday this week. "We have two guys who can make really good results before attacking the three big WorldTour classics in the Netherlands and Belgium," said BMC directeur sportif John Lelangue. "Philippe is also getting better after his problems the past couple of weeks."
Even though he must be feeling down after such a bad start into the new season, the Belgian national champion did not show it. "I am looking to just keep improving," Gilbert said. "Our team is riding well, which makes it a lot easier," he said.
The defending champion and his teammate will be up against the likes of Andy Schleck (RadioShack), Oscar Freire (Katusha), Peter Sagan (Liquigas), Lars Boom and Luis Léon Sanchez (both Rabobank) on Wednesday, before confronting Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre) at the Ardennes Classics. Omega Pharma-QuickStep's Tom Boonen, the Belgian national hero of 2012 following last year's legendary rise of Gilbert, will also try his might at Amstel Gold Race next Sunday, for the very first time in his career.
For now, BMC has announced its roster for the one-day event on Wednesday. Alongside Gilbert and Van Avermaet, Adam Blythe, Yannick Eijssen, Klaas Lodewyck, Amaël Moinard and Danilo Wyss will compete for the American team.