Gilbert made his Worlds debut as a neo-professional in Hamilton in 2003 and has been in the Belgian team on 13 successive occasions. For good measure, he raced in the three preceding world championships underage level, meaning his unbroken sequence stretches back to the Plouay Worlds in 2000. He won the world title in Valkenburg in 2012 and has placed in the top 20 in each of his past nine participations.
“I’m not going to the Worlds, it’s 99.9 per cent certain, as they say,” Gilbert told La Dernière Heure. “On a circuit like the one in Doha, I’d have no ambitions of my own and I don’t think I’d be an important part in the Belgian team. I always prefer to be honest, and I’ve relayed my point of view to the coach, Kevin De Weert. Other riders are maybe better than me and will fight more willingly for position [on that course].”
The flat but twisting Doha circuit seems destined to finish in a bunch sprint, and Gilbert is doubtful as to whether Belgium has a rider in its ranks capable of claiming the rainbow jersey on October 16 against Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel et al.
“If we had a rider in our ranks like the Boonen of 2005 or 2006, capable of rivalling the best sprinters in the world, then I would undoubtedly have revised my point of view to live that occasion and bring my experience,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert was part of the Belgian team at the Rio 2016 Olympics, where teammate Greg Van Avermaet claimed the gold medal, but he admitted that he was dismayed by his own performance in Brazil. Gilbert missed the Giro d’Italia due to injury but won the Belgian title in June and prepared for Rio by riding the Tour de Pologne in July.
“I was very disappointed with my personal performance at the Clasica San Sebastian and the Olympic Games. I thought I’d done everything to get to those two rendezvous on top form, but I have to acknowledge that I came up short. It’s the first time in my career that I’ve failed with my preparation for an objective like that,” Gilbert said.
“Greg’s gold medal and the fantastic emotions it generated help to forget the rest, but if I analyse just my own performance and condition in Rio, I’m still disappointed.”
Gilbert has already confirmed that he will leave BMC at the end of the season, and he told La Dernière Heure that he has decided on his destination for 2016, though he has yet to put pen to paper. The 34-year-old has been linked in the Belgian press with a move to Etixx-QuickStep.
“I’ve made my choice,” Gilbert said. “I’m happy with the decision but I still have to sign. I simply haven’t had the time because I’ve been travelling a lot in recent weeks.”
Gilbert will line out as part of a strong BMC squad at the Vuelta a España, which gets underway in Galicia on Saturday.