Philippe Gilbert is convinced he has hit peak form just in time for the Ardennes Classics and feels he is ready to end Omega Pharma-Lotto team's long drought of results.
Gilbert did not ride Paris-Roubaix, opting to save himself for the three Ardennes Classics, which are arguably the most important races of the season for the French-speaking Belgian and his team. Gilbert finished fourth in last year's Amstel Gold Race, just failing to go with Serguei Ivanov, Karsten Kroon and Robert Gesink, who fought out victory on the Cauberg.
"Amstel is actually a lot like the Tour of Flanders but without the pavé. There are narrow roads, corners, short climbs and steep sections," Gilbert told Belgian newspaper La Derniere Heure after a reconnaissance ride of the final 90 kilometres of the slightly modified race route.
"It was only last year that I finally managed to get a result, before then I always cracked on the in Eyserbosweg (the 28th of the event's 31 climbs, and one of the steepest at 8.8 per cent). I was just missing a teammate to close the 70-80 final metres that separated us from them at the foot of the Cauberg, otherwise..."
Gilbert looked strong at Wednesday's Brabantse Pijl, near Brussels. He launched an attack in pursuit of the race's early breakaway but was unable to close the gap and Sebastien Rosseler (RadioShack) took the win, with Gilbert finishing fifth. However he is confident his form is good.
"It was a great warm-up race on a course that is very similar to Amstel, he said. "I'm less tired than at the same time last year. My form's good. It's definitely not as good as last autumn but without a major Tour like the Vuelta in your legs, that's mission impossible."
"But I am still in the condition I wanted to be. I delayed the start of my training this winter. I did everything so that I'd be ready now, and that's what happened. I've progressed week on week. I won't be disappointed if I make a mistake because I know I've done everything I need to do to be up there."
Omega Pharma-Lotto is desperate to win its first race of the 2010 season. The Belgian team is the only ProTour squad without a win this year. Gilbert insisted the team's line-up for the Ardennes Classics is strong enough to finally end their drought of success.
"The team's strong but not so much as to mean we have to control the race for 250 kilometres," he said. "It won't be up to us to force the attacks even if the team is stronger than in the Flemish classics. We've got a super [Jean-Christophe] Péraud and Jurgen Van Den Broeck. I realised just how strong they were when we did the reconnaissance ride."