After having fine-tuned his form at the Tour of Qatar and the Tour du Haut-Var, Philippe Gilbert feels ready to tackle his first objectives of the 2012 season. Expected to make a move on Sunday's Haut-Var stage finish atop the Mur de Fayence, the BMC leader preferred to sit back in the bunch, hinting that his first fight for the victory could be at this week's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium.
"This parcours was much too hard for a February race," he jokingly told Sportwereld as he reached the finish on Sunday. "It wasn't only the last climb [with peaks up to 26 percent gradient - ed.], but before that it was already too much [a total of 3000 vertical meters for the stage - ed.]. On the last ascent, I pushed a 39x25 gear, but it felt like I was riding the big ring!"
Still, the Belgian was satisfied with his condition in view of his coming targets. "The problem is that you can't really compete with the guys that have Haut-Var as an objective," Gilbert explained. "Take the Brit who won: I don't know the boy, and I may not ride against him again this year [Jonathan Tiernan-Locke]. My conclusion of Sunday's race is that my condition is good. I came to this two-day race in order to sweat, training for what is to follow. Mission accomplished."
In the South of France, Gilbert was able to fight off a respiratory infection. "I had some problems with my sinuses," he continued. "I had a cold coming up. But on Sunday my legs felt much better and I think that by sweating, I was able to fight it off."
Ahead of Milano-Sanremo, Gilbert's first real goal this year, he will take part in next weekend's Belgian season opener, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (formerly Het Volk). On Thursday, he and his BMC teammates will be riding the last part of the route. "We'll ride the last 80 kilometres," he confirmed. "It's very important to ride after this winter and the last cold weeks. Last year, I made the mistake of not scouting the route - I've learned from it. Whether that will lead to success is another question. My first big goal this year is Sanremo, but I won't let it go by if there is an opportunity. But when I see how Tom Boonen rides at the moment..."