Riding the Tour de France a possibility after winless Ardennes
For the second year-in-a-row Philippe Gilbert has gone without a win in the Ardennes Classics or to be more specific, simply a win in the opening four months of the season. The reigning world champion had previously voiced his preference for longer stages at the Santos Tour Down Under, where he returned after a five-year hiatus this season but now it's travelling to Australia and the demands placed on the world champion that have seen him change his tune.
"It was wrong to ride the Tour Down Under," Gilbert told Nieuwsblad. Opening his season at the first WorldTour race of the year, the travel associated with attending Down Under and the extra demands that surrounded the man with the rainbow jersey was all too much for Belgian who won a stage at his last participation in 2004.
"The travel was too heavy. You really need a month in advance for travelling [to Australia] and it was also stressful. Everyone wanted a piece of the world champion," he said.
The Ardennes were of course a major target for Gilbert but as seen at La Flèche Wallonne, the favourites placed a considerable amount of responsibility on the shoulders of the former winner and essentially helped to mark him out of the race on the final ascent of the Mur de Huy.
"In the finals of the [Ardennes] classics there was a huge burden because everyone looks at you. It was quite different from wearing the Belgian champion jersey."
With nearly half the year already behind him and without a victory to show for it, Gilbert is considering riding the Tour de France to remedy his lack of winning results. If he had won one of the three Ardennes classics: Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne or Liège–Bastogne–Liège he may have skipped the French grand tour but as it stands, he could be on the start line when the race begins on 29 June - if he is selected.
"If I had won a classic in the spring, I would have probably ignored the Tour [de France]. But I have not won and that is a big disappointment," said Gilbert.
"I need the Tour now. But there is absolutely no guarantees. There are 14 or 15 riders for 9 places. Only Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen are certain."
With a team that will likely see the former winner Evans and a potential rider for the podium in the form of van Garderen in the mix, Gilbert's role could mean putting aside his personal ambitions for the greater good. In addition a rider of Gilbert's quality and characteristics may not suit the US ProTeams ambitions to win the general classification.
"I won't be there to help in the mountains but that does not mean I take the place of someone else. There is Evans and van Garderen but we do not have any other real climbers in the team," he said.
Gilbert still has plenty of commitments before a possible start of the Tour with the 30-year-old headed for the United States and the Tour of California for his next race.
"The BMC is registered there and it's an important race but I also wanted to go. I've never been to the United States and I've heard the race has huge crowds."
- Tour de France