“We were happy to win as a team in Amstel and that takes a lot of pressure off me and the team,” said Gilbert, who won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2011.
“We can approach Liège a little differently. I showed some limits in Flèche [Wallonne] but it’s not so bad. I’m not the only favourite for Liège but that might be a good position for us. It means we can gamble a little bit more and it puts pressure on other teams and other favourites.”
There’s a clear distinction between being relaxed and confident and being cocky, and Gilbert is certainly in the former camp. He’s remained focused since Amstel and although the triple has eluded him he is aware that a win in Liège would turn his season from the successful into the spectacular. Nothing will perhaps eclipse that run of form he had in 2011 where almost anything seemed possible but Liège remains a cut above Amstel.
Win there, in the 100th edition of the race, with the King of Belgium present and you will be immortalised forever by the cycling fans of Belgium. Relaxed or not, come Sunday morning when race numbers are pinned on and the teams are called to the signing on podium, Gilbert will feel the buzz of the crowd and the sense of occasion.
“It’s always stress but it’s more motivation than stress. I’m still taking care of all the details like making sure that I’m not getting sick, eating the right food and being careful in training. But I know that I’ve been training well over the last month and I’ve been racing well in the last few weeks. When you have the feeling that you’ve done everything you can then why would you be stressed? You can just be confident.”
What helps alleviate some of the expectation is that Gilbert doesn’t start Liège as the outright favourite. The Belgian press haven’t become carried away after his Amstel form, aware that he’s not head and shoulders ahead of the opposition as he was in 2011.
“What I saw in Amstel was that everyone is on a similar level. Of course I won but I didn’t win by a minute and in Flèche we saw the top ten were close. There are a lot of guys on the same level and we all want to win. It’s always hard to fight in the final with the best riders in the world but that’s what makes this challenge so nice.”
“Liège is a monument,” he added, nodding that he is well aware of how important winning remains.
“It’s one of the five races you have in the season. It’s bigger than Amstel. I was happy to win that for a third time but I’ll give everything I can to win on Sunday.”
Gilbert could have picked anyone when he chose who he believed was his biggest rival for the race. Understandably he plumped for Valverde, a rider he dropped in Amstel but struggled to match in Flèche. The Spaniard has won Liège twice and has been in strong form since the start of the year.
“Valverde has won eight races this year and he’s won here twice before. He’s always top five or top ten so for me, that’s the guy to watch, but I don’t want to stop with one win here. Every monument I try for the win.”
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