Philippe Gilbert and his BMC team were left disappointed and frustrated after missing out on victory in Lugano but true to character, the Belgian bounced back, went on the attack again on the road to Verbania during stage 18 of the Giro d'Italia and savoured the emotions of winning alone in the lakeside town.
Gilbert made sure he was in the break of the day and then paced his effort on the twisting slopes of Monte Ologno before attacking the break and diving down the descent.
"It's the first time I've even finished a hilly stage so early and been able to see the other riders and the race leader finish behind me on television," he said clearly enjoying his second victory in this year’s Giro d'Italia after his earlier win in the rain in Vicenza.
"This was one of best victories because in the end I had time to enjoy it. I heard from Valerio Piva on the radio that I had a minute on the chasers and so I knew it was won. Yesterday our team manager Jim Ochowicz said he could see I was in good form. He's never one to make easy compliments and now I think I've shown he was right."
Gilbert knew that he would have to get in the break of the day if he wanted a chance of victory.
"We said this morning that the entire team apart from Caruso could go for the the breakaway; we knew it was a stage when the break might make it. Everyone tried but then I and Moinard got in the move then went clear.
"We rode a great race and worked perfectly. Last night we slept on the other side of the lake, and the hotel staff said: 'look at the hill – that's tomorrow's climb.' From 20km away it didn't seem so hard, but it was hard in the end and I suffered. But I paced my effort. I knew that if I got to the top of the climb within 50 seconds of the leaders, I could get back on the descent. That's why I attacked and gave it everything."
Gilbert's BMC bike was checked by UCI inspectors after the stage, along with four other riders. He did not seem worried, pointing out that the BMC team is sponsored by electronic bike maker Stromer. He insisted he would never use a motorised bike but as the owner of a bike shop in Monte Carlo, he knows about the benefits.
"I don't know they tested my bike," he said. "I suppose it's the evolution of our sport and the checks are a good thing because these stories may even be possible. I don't know how, I've never tried one and I don't want to try. But we have a sponsor called Stromer and I know it makes an incredible difference."
"I enjoy myself hugely on a bike"
Gilbert has won 58 races during his 14-year career. He has a rainbow rings tattoo on his right ankle and on the sleeves of his jersey to show he won the world title in 2012. He has also won numerous major Classics and other races. Gilbert will turn 33 in July but has no plans to retire just yet.
"For me, this sport or should I say profession, is a passion," he said.
"I enjoy myself hugely on a bike, even when taking risks, descending at full speed or in the group. But you can't have a normal life. We have a lot of stress but I love it. I have a contract for another year but I'd like a few more years in the peloton. I'll see what my family says first but at two or three more years. Italy is a country I love too. I've won Lombardy, Piemonte, Sabatini, many races, I like this country."
Gilbert took some risks on the descent to Verbania but despite having a family and being the wrong side 30, he's not afraid to take risks to try to win.
"I've fallen a few times in my career, but it's part of cycling. This is the most dangerous sport, no doubt, we race on roads that often have no security, like yesterday when there were no lights in the tunnels, which was very dangerous. It's always dangerous with people along the roadside; a child can always cross in front of you. But if you start thinking like that, you stop racing. If I stop and think about the dangers, I wouldn't achieve anything."
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