One year after a complete domination of the Ardennes week, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) leaves the Ardennes and the whole spring classics season empty-handed. After chasing his best form during the past months, Gilbert felt he was finally back in good shape on the eve of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The 29-year-old Belgian believed that he would be able to grab his last chance of a big win in La Doyenne, the oldest of the Classics, but the tide didn’t turn on home turf for the Belgian champion. In the finale, Gilbert was dropped from an elite chase group on the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. He eventually crossed the finish line in Ans riding alone in 16th position, one minute and a half behind his successor Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana).
“To me, he’s a surprise and I’m especially surprised by the way he did it. He was very strong. He’s a Kazakh so maybe he’s also used to the foul weather,” Gilbert said.
Last year Gilbert clocked off the first part of the season with seven nice wins in his bag. This time around he’s left empty-handed but that didn’t make him feel disappointed.
“I’m not disappointed because I did all that I could do. The only reason to be disappointed is because I always have the ambition to win. Of course it’s sad that I wasn’t able to win a big race. The difference [to last year] is big. Last year I was able to make use of that form to the maximum, never letting a chance slip away. This year is quite different but that’s sport. You can’t always be on the top of your form. Certainly in Liège you need to be at least 100 per cent. At this level it’s like in the Formula 1 when the smallest of details make the difference. I’m only at 90 or 95 per cent. I’m paying for that.”
Gilbert rode prominently near the front throughout, and he was right there when Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) made his decisive attack on top of the Falcon’s Rock, the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons. A little later Iglinskiy snuck away with Joaquím Rodriguez (Katusha), while Gilbert turned out to be gasping for air.
“When I tried to follow Nibali on the Roche-aux-Faucons I hit the red zone. Right after that I struggled to recover. On character I managed to hang on, hoping I would get over it. The following roads were more rolling and that’s when the group broke in two parts. I ended up riding in the second group but we came back at the foot of the Saint-Nicolas. There it was very hard for me. I hadn’t recovered and I paid for that. I finished as last of the lead group. In a race like this there are no secrets, everybody is on form. I have no regrets. If I wasn’t in front then it is because I wasn’t able to be. I’m at a good level but to win this race you have to be at 100 per cent.”
After the last of the Spring Classics, a new part of the season kicks off with the big stage races as key events. For Gilbert it’s the moment to ease off and get ready for his next goals. The Walloon rider said that although he adapted his training regime to his moderate form, he felt very tired.
“I need a break even though I didn’t ride the finale of every race. Mentally it took a lot of energy, physically too. I’m taking a break now in order to start the second part of the season at the right foot. I hope to return with my best form in a few months. Also, next year the classics are there again and I’ll keep trying,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert is planned to return to competition at the Tour of Belgium at the end of May. He hopes to arrive at the Tour de France in July in top form in order to grab the stage win in Seraing, near Liège, and to support teammate Cadel Evans in his attempt to capture another overall win.