Philippe Gilbert has shown that will be in good form to defend his Paris-Tours this weekend, after he claimed victory at the Coppa Sabatini on Thursday. Ahead of Sunday's race in France the Silence-Lotto rider told Cyclingnews that he was pleased with his preparation, but was cautious about his chances of a back-to-back win.
"I'm feeling strong and confident, and I hope to have a strong team with me on Sunday," said Gilbert. "My condition may even be better than last year. Obviously, to do better [than last year] is impossible, but if I can do the same again it will be a great result."
His victory in last year's Paris-Tours was a rare triumph for a non-sprinter in the event. In one of his final races for former team Française des Jeux he joined a late race breakaway to outsmart the peloton on the famed Avenue de Grammont by a mere four seconds. Yesterday, Gilbert underlined why he will be considered a dark horse once again after claiming victory from a 24-man breakaway group at the Coppa Sabatini.
"When we rode off the climb for the first time, I could see saw that it was a great finish for me," he said of Thursday's result. "It was a special win; it's never easy to control everything in a long breakaway, especially one as big as that, but I had some good help from Cadel [Evans]."
The presence of Evans at the Coppa Sabatini attracted particular attention. It was the first time the Australian raced in the rainbow stripes of World Champion and although Gilbert held high hopes of taking the coveted jersey this year he acknowledged the value of the title to their team.
"I was disappointed for myself because I worked two or three months for the Worlds and finished sixth. I did a good race but I wanted more of a result. But, for sure, with Cadel having won the Worlds, it’s important for us as a team," he said.
"Yesterday was the first race with Cadel wearing the jersey and there were a lot of people around the bus and the team. Maybe it will add a little bit of extra pressure, but that is good for a rider."
Gilbert is close to completion of his debut season with Silence-Lotto. With four season victories, including a stage win at the Giro d'Italia and yesterday's win at Coppa Sabatini, Gilbert said he was satisfied with his and the teams' season report card.
"It's been a good season. As a team we had a lot of top-five finishes in the Classics," he said. "I was third at Flanders, fourth at Amstel and Liège, and Cadel was fifth at Flèche Wallonne. After the Vuelta, my condition for the Worlds was good too. It was just the Tour de France that was a disappointment [for the team]."
Although the Tour was a well publicised disappointment for the team, Gilbert's move from French team, Française des Jeux, to a Silence-Lotto saw him sit out the Grand Tour for the first time in five seasons. It’s a decision that he now feels is paying dividends as he closes his season at Paris-Tours, the Giro del Piamonte and the final World Calendar event of the year, the Giro di Lombardia.
"Normally, it's always difficult for me to do well at the end of the season having done the Tour and the Vuelta. This year, without having done the Tour, I feel I have more in reserve and more power, so it will be different for me [this year] and I will start with more ambition in Lombardia."
Next year, Gilbert expects to follow a programme similar to that of this season that will see him arrive in a position to contest the Spring Classics. He said he expects, once again, to open his season at the Volta a Algarve in Portugal.
"I'll start again at the Volta a Algarve in mid-February," he said "After Lombardia I'll take one month off to recover and then spend three months preparing for next season. If I start racing too early it will have an impact on the rest of the year."
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