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It wouldn't be Tour Down Under without some local wildlife, Philippe Gilbert was happy to get involved
World Champion regrets Corkscrew pile-up
Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) struggled at the start of the 2012 season. Twelve months on, it's a very different story, with the world champion taking stage placing and going on the attack at the Tour Down Under.
"I think it's important to start the season in good condition - not the best but still a little bit good," he told Cyclingnews.
"I've been training good but I still have to be much better than this. I stopped the season earlier so I had more training in the winter. I was really motivated with the jersey. I was training well. I think my endurance is perfect. I think I've built a good base for the season."
Gilbert was considered one of the favourites for overall success at the 2013 Tour Down Under, only to have his chances dashed by the mass pile-up on the Corkscrew Hill climb on stage two. He bounced back with a third place on stage three but was left to rue what might have been.
"It was so stupid to have lost [time] with the crash because with this third place maybe I would be in a good position but this is a race and you can't change this," he said.
On stage three Gilbert spent 118km blowing out the pre-season cobwebs in the break that dominated the stage. The reigning World Champion is in Australia as the first stepping stone towards his major season objective: the Ardennes Classics.
"I know I need to be 100 per cent there," Gilbert said. "I know if I'm 90 - 95 per cent now I know it's not possible to be 100 per cent in April. So I start the race slowly and my condition is coming up every week."
Gilbert found the going hard following the Corkscrew stage, with no position to defend on the general classification. Even before the queen stage on Willunga Hill, Gilbert was among the names mentioned as a possible winner, but the Belgian had switched off.
"I cannot fight for nothing," he told Cyclingnews. "If was top 10, my race would be different because I would be more focused,' he explained.
"I knew I was not in the battle anymore so it's hard to concentrate on it and to make sacrifices. You have to go deep and then when you're not in the race I cannot find the motivation for this."
Gilbert of course dominated the Ardennes in 2011, claiming the clean sweep of Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Asked if he could attempt the same feat again, the 30-year-old would not rule out the possibility.
"I did it once, maybe I can do it a second time," he mused. "It was quite amazing what I did that year and maybe it's impossible to do better but I will try and we'll see. Even if I win one classic it's good."
And what of the effect of the rainbow bands on the man arguably most dangerous? According to Gilbert, it's inconsequential.
"When I race I don't see them," he admitted. "When I'm on the bike, I don't think about what I did before - what I won before. I'm there to win a race. I just focus on the day - I'm there to win and I'll try to do my best. The past is the past."
Gilbert wasn't entirely certain that he'd milked everything out of his third appearance at the Tour Down Under, with Oman his next test coming in a fortnight's time.
"The thing is maybe the stages are a little bit short," he said. "At this time of the year we need kilometres. Maybe it's the only thing, if I could change something it was this. Maybe an hour more of racing every day would be nicer, then you would see a different race. Maybe more calm; less risk - maybe this is the only thing to change."