King of the Classics ready for challenges of Sagan and Valverde
Having won almost all of the most prestigious one-day races, Philippe Gilbert has made victory at the 2012 Road World Championships in Holland his main goal for next season. “The Worlds are my biggest target,” the winner of the 2011 Velo d'Or told the German version of Eurosport. “To wear the rainbow jersey for one year is something special. If I had a choice, I would like to fulfil this dream.”
This year, at Copenhagen, Gilbert was thought to be a leading contender but finished 17th in the bunch sprint won by Mark Cavendish. In 2010, after a breakaway in the finish, he was 18th, in another sprint captured by Thor Hushovd. Gilbert's best results in the Road World Championships are sixth place in 2009, in Mendrisio, Switzerland, and a eighth place in 2007, in Stuttgart.
The 2012 course seems more suitable to Gilbert than in the last two years, especially in light of his recent successes at the Amstel Gold Race - the Ardennes Classic staged in Holland that the Belgian has won for the last two years. Asked about the pressure he will face before the Road World Championships next year, Gilbert says: “It is certainly a downside, but I can't do anything. I am always announced like one of the favourites, even when I am not fit at that time. I have to live with this pressure. It's is also a beautiful challenge.”
One of Gilbert's other main goals for next season will be repeat success in the other Ardennes Classics, La Fleche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Gilbert raced to a clean sweep of all three of them last season, becoming only the second rider in history to achieve that feat. About Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, two spring one-day events currently absent from his palmarès, he says: “I use to start with a bit of extra weight. Riders like [Tom] Boonen or [Fabian] Cancellara are already in their top form – not me.” In his new squad, BMC, his team-mate Thor Hushovd will share the leadership at those races.
Obviously Gilbert will focus on the puncheurs races where he is the best rider in the world. He is observing the rise of his young rivals, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale). About the Slovak talent, he says: “Until now I haven't fought with him. It is said that he has matched me – he is a bit provocative, and I like this.”
Next year Gilbert is going to face another Ardennes expert again, Alejandro Valverde, 31, who is eligible to come back after his suspension for doping, possibly to Movistar Team. “It is good for his image he has served his doping ban”, Gilbert says. “Now we can reset the counter to zero and he will be welcome like every other rider. I have no problem with him. He will be hard to beat as he climbs well, is fast on the flat and can
Alongside the Classics and the Worlds, Gilbert speaks about the Tour de France, the main mission of team BMC next season. He plans to start as domestique deluxe for Cadel Evans and expects a battle with the Schlecks’ new squad managed by Johan Bruyneel. “In theory, that will be the duel that everyone is looking forward to. It sounds like an exciting fight. It's just a pity there is no team time trial – it would have been a great battle between the two teams and Team Sky.”
When asked about Andy Schleck's chances of winning the Tour one day, Gilbert sounded quite cautious: “When there is a very mountainous Tour without too much time trial, he has got a chance. But only if [Alberto] Contador is not at his best. Perhaps [Schleck] has missed his biggest chance to win - in 2011.”
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