Philippe Gilbert (BMC) will begin his 14th season as a professional at the Dubai Tour on Wednesday but insists he is still hungry for success, with Milan-San Remo the top of his list of goals for 2015.
“I've been a pro for 13 seasons. But it doesn't feel like a lot to me. I'm still fresh and motivated. I still feel young,” Gilbert told Cyclingnews after a final pre-race ride with his BMC teammates on Tuesday.
“I still do all the sacrifices without any problem such as going out in the rain or riding in the cold. I'm not getting old, neither are the years weighing on my shoulders. I feel good and feel I can go for some years yet.”
Gilbert will be 33 in July and has won 49 races during his career, including the 2012 world road race title, Il Lombardia in 2009 and 2010 and of course his beloved Ardennes Classics. He won the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège triplette in 2011 - his golden season, on the way to winning 16 race.
Thinking of Milan-San Remo
Gilbert's fast finish, his climbing ability and sharp tactical mind makes a natural contender for the Dubai Tour. While the pure sprinters will no doubt dominate the three flat stages and take the ten, six and four second time bonuses, the uphill finish on stage 3 to Hatta Dam perfectly suits Gilbert. However, he quickly played down his ambitions, conscious that his big goals lay further down the road in March and April.
“I feel good. I've had a good winter but I haven't really done any specific work to be good in this race, so it's not really a goal. I'm here to get in some quality kilometres and so make sure I'm ready for later in the season,” he said.
“My goals are Milan-San Remo and the Ardennes. There's something special about San Remo and not only because I live nearby in Monaco. It's special because it's so difficult to win.”
The decision to move the finish back to the famous Via Roma in the centre of town favours riders like him. There is one kilometre less of flat road after the descent of the Poggio, giving the attackers slightly better odds of escaping the sprinters' grasp.
“For sure there's more chance for attacks on the Poggio now,” he said with belief.
“With the old finish, some riders were afraid to attack or waited because they were afraid of being caught on the flat road after the descent of the Poggio. Now there's less road before the finish and so I think we'll see more moves on the Poggio and more attacks.”
For the love of cycling
Gilbert has invested some of his career earnings and opened his own bike shop in Monaco, where he spends much of the year and seems to enjoy meeting other cyclists and seeing the latest bikes to hit the market. His shop in Rue des Acores in the heart of Monaco naturally stocks BMC bikes.
“I love the sport and everything about cycling,” he explained. There's something special about cycling. You can train where you want, when you want. You can discover a new road or climb and even travel somewhere warm to enjoy cycling if the weather is bad at home. It's absolutely not like playing football inside a stadium.
“The shop helps me understand my love for cycling. There are a lot of people starting cycling who are in the 40s and 50s. They fall in love after perhaps being injured doing other sports and they go crazy for cycling. It's great to see that. Also because it's people like that who fund professional cycling by buying the bikes and our sponsors' products.
“I wanted a bike shop because I love bikes and like seeing the new bikes. As pros we use what we get from the sponsors and by having a shop I can see everything that is produced in the world of cycling. It's amazing some of the things they produce now.”
Don't ask about Van Avermaet
Gilbert enjoys talking about Milan-San Remo, his love for cycling and his bike shop. The only thing that irks him, and turns his smile into a scowl, is a question about his teammate and fellow Belgian Greg Van Avermaet.
Gilbert has said he'd love to target the Tour of Flanders and the other cobbled Classics but BMC insist he stays focused on Milan-San Remo and the Ardennes Classics, and has again back Van Avermaet for the first half of April.
“I don't see the point in speaking about it. I don't think it's important. We're teammates but we never race together. ” Gilbert snaps back to Cyclingnews with a mix of boredom and anger.
He was happier talking about his early season race programme.
“After the Dubai Tour I'm also riding the Tour of Qatar, then Haut Var, Het Nieuwsblad and maybe Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. After then it's maybe Paris-Nice,” he said.
He shrugged off a suggestion riding Paris-Nice challenges the unwritten rules of the best Milan-San Remo preparation.
“We'll see...,” he said, ready to accept the challenge as if he is looking to prove a point. “We'll be able to say after Milan-San Remo and if I win or not. Let's see what happens in the next weeks and months...”