By Susan Westemeyer
Belgium hopes to produce the winning rider in Saturday's Milano-Sanremo, and if it isn't superstar Tom Boonen, it might just be up-and-coming Philippe Gilbert of Française des Jeux. The young Belgian on the French team has had a number of top finishes already this year.
Only 24 year-old, he has already raced Sanremo (Milan - San Remo) three times, finishing 14th, 6th and 32nd. "Milan-Sanremo, it's crazy, you go at a crazy speed," he told sportwereld.be. "Before you realize it, the rush to Sanremo is past. Once you are on the top of the Turchino, you go insanely fast, you ride with a constantly high pulse."
"It is a very individual race. The course has always remained the same. You can compare yourself to Eddy Merckx, to Zabel and the other champions. At the start, everybody thinks he can win, but in the last 40 kilometres only the potential winners are still there."
After Paris-Nice, Gilbert remained in the area rather than returning home to a cold Belgium. He also wanted to train on the Sanremo parcours. "I did that on Wednesday. The Poggio twice, the Cipressa once. It is a very special finale. You have the feeling you know it and in fact you do not know it."
Gilbert knows that it will not be easy to win a sprint finish in this race. "A sprint after 294 kilometres is of course not the same as a sprint after 180 kilometres. You sprint with your last strength in Sanremo. In the best circumstances I would end up fifth or sixth."
"I have to make use of a moment of doubt, like Andrei Tchmil or Pippo Pozzato. In Milan-Sanremo it is very simple: you can use your energy in a killing attack, or in the final sprint. It is a gamble, but if you gamble on the escape, you can forget the sprint."