By snatching the victory from Wout Poels (Vacansoleil) in stage five of Tirreno-Adriatico on Sunday, one week before the great Italian Classic Milan-San Remo, Philippe Gilbert has demonstrated that he is in top form ahead of the event. The Omega Pharma-Lotto leader explained that his current success is due in part to experience, saying that "in the past, I would have done exactly what Poels did."
Gilbert took the stage win with a last-minute effort after the Poels had caught the remaining breakaway riders in the last kilometre - a harsh outcome for the strong Vacansoleil rider but a tactical masterpiece from Gilbert.
"It's all down to experience," he told Sportwereld. "In the past, I would have jumped under the flamme rouge just like him and gone home empty-handed. But I knew that there were two turns in the final kilometre. I had to wait, stay out of the wind, and make a final effort at the right moment. That's timing, and you need patience for it. And a bit of luck, too."
The victory was finally decided by just a few centimetres. "It was close," Gilbert smiled. "But close is also enough."
After having taken a similar win at the Strade Bianche race ten days ago - outsprinting Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing Team) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre) in the very last metres to the finish - the Belgian has an excellent basis both physically as well as psychologically upon which to launch another attempt at the upcoming Milan-San Remo.
Third in 2008, Gilbert hopes for at least another podium placing at the 'Classicissima', and with three victories already in his pocket this season, he will be at the start line "without pressure. Moreover, Milan-San Remo is not really my primary objective. My peak will be later, for the Ronde, Amstel and Liège. If I can get a result [in San Remo], then that's magnificent. If not, it's no catastrophe."
Gilbert is now looking to his team to set up the perfect race circumstances for him in the finale of the 298km-long event, but suggested outlining that some of the teamwork had not always gone to plan lately.
"I need luck, and a good team," he said. "I need to be well-protected until the foot of the Poggio, so that I don't have to waste any energy beforehand. If I'm on my own in the finale, then it's no good. But I don't want to create any tensions in the squad, that's unnecessary. I need to trust them."