Although he is still without a win in the rainbow jersey, world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) remains confident in his abilities and says that he is taking aim at defending his title in Florence in September.
After claiming a remarkable 18 victories in 2011, Gilbert struggled throughout 2012 before a late-season run of form netted him two stage wins at the Vuelta a España and the world championships in Valkenburg.
Gilbert has been more consistent through the early months of 2013 than he was last year, but he has still been lacking the sparkle of 2011 and has been frustrated in his bid to claim his maiden victory in the rainbow jersey.
“I’m not missing much to go and get that victory,” Gilbert told La Dernière Heure. “There are small details, difficult to explain, that make the difference – circumstances in a race that turn in your favour.
“I remain confident in my quality in any case. I haven’t been plagued by doubt because I know that’s a block on the road to success. In 2011, everything went my way, whereas this year, with the rainbow jersey on my back, it’s gone differently.
Gilbert, who finished fifth at Amstel Gold Race and seventh at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, as well as third overall at the Tour of Belgium, quipped that the rainbow jersey made it more difficult to escape the clutches of the peloton.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that people are riding against me but when the world champion attacks, certain riders are more inclined to accompany him.”
Nonetheless, Gilbert is keen to spend another year in the famous tunic and he believes the exacting nature of the Florence course presents him with a wonderful opportunity to defend his crown.
“It’s the next major objective and I want to be 100 percent. I have a unique opportunity to double up because the route is perfectly suited to my characteristics,” said Gilbert, who hopes that Tom Boonen makes himself available to ride for the Belgian team.
“Tom could be a very important part of the team on this course. I would love to be able to count on his help and I am going to try to convince him to ride these Worlds. Afterwards, maybe I could help him in Qatar in 2016…”
This week, Gilbert lines up at the Tour de Suisse, which was a late addition to his programme. Originally slated to ride the Ster ZLM Toer, the early birth of his second child meant that Gilbert was eventually available for the Swiss race.
In spite of the mountainous parcours, he is hopeful of sniffing out a stage win. Indeed, Gilbert can take solace from the fact that in 2011, his friend and BMC teammate Thor Hushovd claimed his first win as world champion on stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse.
“My condition is good. I worked well over these last few weeks and I’ve trained a lot,” Gilbert said. “I don’t know the stages here in detail but this race always has one or two hilly days that could suit me.”