Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) put a brave face on what was clearly a very tough Flèche Wallonne for the Belgian rider, who finished 91st after sliding out of the running in the final 25 kilometres of the race.
Ever since his triumphant 2011 spring campaign when he won all three Ardennes Classics, as well as Brabantse Pijl, Gilbert has had mixed fortunes at Flèche Wallonne.
Third in 2012, 15th in 2013 and then 10th in 2014, Gilbert’s previous low point in the mid-week hilly Classic came last April. In one of the race’s multiple pile-ups, Gilbert crashed out more than an hour from the finish, with a mass of road-rash, scrapes and bruises down his right side.
This time round, with his broken finger, like in Amstel, severely hampering his all-round performance, Gilbert at least managed to make it to the finish. But it had clearly been a difficult race and his morale was by no means good when he spoke to reporters.
“I was doing ok during the first part of the course, but then in the last part I started getting tired, due to all the little problems I had with my finger and the change of position on the bike I have had as a result,” he said. “It was all very difficult.”
Rather than a specific injury, Gilbert emphasised that his difficulties were “a whole, it’s all come together. When you get these sorts of physical problems, particularly in a race as tough as this, you always pay a very high price.”
The questions quickly swung towards the Ardennes week’s biggest prize on Sunday, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. But Gilbert deflected the speculation as best he could with non-committal answers, arguing that “it’s still a long way off. I’m honestly not thinking about it too much, there’s not much more to say about it.”
Whilst he confirmed that his morale has suffered, not just his physical condition, Gilbert insisted that it was important to retain a broader perspective on his injury, both in terms of his overall season and sport’s place in society in general.
“When things don’t go well, of course it affects you mentally too, but at the end of the day, it’s sport. It’s a passion, it’s a metier, but other things are serious too and the season is long. It’s certainly hard when races like this that you love slip away from you because of these sorts of situations. But hopefully, things will be better in the future.”