Philippe Gilbert's lack of success this year may still be a mystery to some given the superiority the Belgian showed last season, but the BMC rider has insisted that he is back on track for the second half of the season and his two big objectives: the London Olympics and the World Championships in Valkenburg, Netherlands.
Having raced the Tour de France as a domestique for Cadel Evans and Tejay Van Garderen, Gilbert didn't get much freedom to go for his own chances, but this may have been beneficial in view of his recent level of form.
"The Tour was very difficult, but I also worked a lot for Van Garderen and Evans. When you have to protect them from the wind every day, it does take up a lot of energy, which is why I haven't been much at the front in the stage finishes. But that was my role at this Tour," he told Cyclingnews after three weeks of racing, admitting that the team's result at the race this year hasn't been what they had hoped for.
"There is of course a small feeling of disappointment at BMC, but I think we can still be happy with the race's outcome. We haven't won a stage and we missed out on the top three of GC, but we still got onto the podium in Paris [with Van Garderen taking the white jersey - ed.]. But Sky was just on another level," he explained.
Gilbert's best chance for a stage victory came on stage 14 to Foix, as he had been part of the breakaway which led Rabobank's Luis Leon Sanchez to the win. But the 30-year-old was still happy with his shape in view of the London Olympics, where he will be racing the road event as well as the time trial.
"I feel really well, actually. The crash [on stage 18, caused by a running dog - ed.] was a little bit of a setback. But I was very lucky, as I could have fractured my collarbone there, for example. But I can say that my form has improved since this Spring, I'm definitely better than I was in April.
"I conclude this Tour in quite an interesting state of freshness. Within the next two or three days, I will have recovered well, and then there will be the phenomenon of over-compensation [physically gaining strength from an important workload just prior to another peak event - ed.] that will be really beneficial," the Classics specialist said.
The Belgian team, including top sprinter and leader Tom Boonen, is flying to London on Tuesday. Boonen is not at 100 percent of his abilities due to a fractured rib he suffered two weeks ago at the Tour of Poland, which could leave the door open to Gilbert and his more aggressive racing style.
"I'm certainly not one of the favourites, but I do have some ambition. I'm really motivated," he answered when asked about his chances in the Olympic road race, which many think will come down to a sprint but which also could be treacherous due to the nine laps over the Box Hill climb.
"The course is quite hard, actually," assessed Gilbert, who had already reconned it earlier in the season. "The climb will have to be raced nine times. At the same time, it's the riders that make up the race. Sometimes they design a route that is extremely difficult, but if it's not used by the riders, then it becomes easy. If, one the other hand, several teams are interested in making the race more difficult from the start, then it will be another story. All will depend on how the big nations will rate their chances."
With world champion Mark Cavendish in its ranks on home turf, the British team's tactics are no secret, and following the performances of Team Sky at the Tour de France, Gilbert warned that the race speed would be incredibly high. "Their aim will be to ride in front and make it come down to a sprint. That's a bit frightening, as they will be riding at full power - and at that speed, nobody can hold out for very long. Everything will be calculated. Teams like us will have to attack."