Peiper replaced Lelangue ahead of 2014 season
The transfer spree that brought Philippe Gilbert to BMC and altered the complexion of the team in 2012 may have garnered more headlines, but the Belgian believes that the appointment of Allan Peiper as manager has marked a very significant change in the philosophy of the team.
The experienced Peiper joined BMC as performance director at the beginning of last season, and was promoted to the role of sporting manager in the wake of John Lelangue's departure immediately after last year's Tour de France.
Gilbert, who signed a contract extension just two weeks before BMC parted company with Lelangue, hailed the appointment of Peiper and pointed to the squad's early wins in Australia and Dubai as indications of a collective change in mindset.
"For everybody it's like a new team. It's a completely different mentality. We can feel it, we can see it in the results, even if it's only the first two or three races, we can see we are there with another approach to cycling and racing," Gilbert told reporters in Doha at the Tour of Qatar, his first race of the new season. "Everybody has a goal now, everybody has motivation. We can feel that everybody is very motivated."
Gilbert's own approach to the campaign is set to alter slightly under Peiper's stewardship. Whereas in years past, the Belgian has chased classics success both on the cobbles and in the Ardennes, this time around he will forgo the Tour of Flanders in order to focus exclusively on the races that suit him best.
"[The idea] came first from me, but [Peiper] was happy because he was thinking the same," Gilbert said. "I think this team already has a lot of riders for those races and it's not the case for the Ardennes, so I think it's better to focus on the races where you have the most chance of having results."
First win not an obsession
After amassing some 18 wins during his annus mirabilis of 2011, Gilbert has had to wait until the Vuelta a España to open his account in each of the past two seasons. He insisted that reeling off an early win was not an obsession this year, but joked that it would at least add some variety to his post-race interviews.
"If I don't have one win then I will always have this question after races: ‘When will you win? When will you win? So it's pretty much annoying to hear this every time," he smiled. "But it's up to me to win so I'm done with this question and you can ask me something else instead."
During the winter, Gilbert professed to a degree of relief at the fact that he is no longer wearing the rainbow jersey of world champion, and he alluded to the television coverage of the final stage of the Dubai Tour to illustrate his point. "Rui Costa is a good example. He was not a contender for the final stage but the cameras were on him all the time and he was on TV a lot," Gilbert said. "When you have the jersey, everybody says more about you."
That said, Gilbert admitted that he would like an attempt at another, more successful stint in the rainbow jersey, and described this season's Worlds course in Ponferrada as "almost the same kind of race as Valkenburg," where he won in 2012. In preparation for the Worlds, meanwhile, Gilbert is set to skip the Tour de France – "I will look at this on television," he quipped – and the Vuelta will be his sole grand tour in 2014.
While the revamped Milan-San Remo course mean that Gilbert has earmarked La Classicissima as his first major goal of the season, he stressed that the plan remains, as ever, to reach his peak form three weeks later, for the troika of Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
That Ardennes hat-trick was the highpoint of Gilbert's remarkable 2011 campaign, and he laughed when asked if he needed a degree of luck to hit that kind of jackpot again. "Luck is just when you play on the Lotto or the EuroMillions," he said. "I think when you work hard, then the level is there."