By Shane Stokes
Philippe Gilbert had an excellent season in 2008, winning Het Volk, Paris-Tours, the Vuelta a Mallorca, Le Samyn and taking third in Milan-Sanremo. He reports he is satisfied with his fitness as he approaches the start of his first season with the Silence-Lotto team.
"I had my first training camp in December in Spain," he said to Cyclingnews. "I saw my new teammates for the first time and we did four hours every day on the bikes. The weather was perfect and my condition is now okay.
"I am ready for the second training camp, running from the 10th to the 20th in Portugal, and there we will ride a lot. Every day it will be between four and six hours."
The 26-year-old turned pro in 2003 with La Française des Jeux, but Silence-Lotto snapped him up to bolster its Classics campaign. His early impressions of the team are favourable ones.
"It is very professional. We have very good bikes – they are light and nice - and the training is very good. The staff is good, the riders are good – it is a very strong team. I think we can win a lot of races on every terrain – stage races, one-day races."
The French-speaking Belgian will get his season underway at the Grand Prix Marseillaise on February 1. He will then ride the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal, Het Volk, Le Samyn - Feyt la Franc, Paris-Nice, Milan-Sanremo and Flèche Brabançonne.
Although the Tour of Flanders is a major target for most Belgians, Gilbert is likely to miss it, doing the Vuelta al País Vasco instead in preparation for Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Depending on how things go, the Giro d'Italia is also a possibility.
The amicable rider is clear about the races he wants to do well in. "I hope to perform strongly in Het Volk and Sanremo," he stated. "Then I'll target Amstel, Flèche and Liège. That is the most important week."
Also read Gilbert aims for more one-day wins.