Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) returned to Plouay to take part in the French World Tour race for the first time since 2011. Apart from that year, when the World Championship course in Copenhagen didn't suit him (he finished 17th), he usually opts for the Vuelta a España to gear up for the race to the rainbow jersey. "It's a special feeling to come back to Plouay because of all the memories it brings back," the Belgian said on the start line.
Gilbert, 33, first rode in Plouay in the year 2000 when the Breton village hosted the World Championships for the centennial of the Union Cycliste International, which was founded in Paris by the cycling associations of France, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and the USA. He was a junior and one of the favorites. He attacked and got caught in the second last lap.
"It was my first international experience really," he told daily newspaper Ouest-France on the eve of the GP Plouay. "I remember the Belgian pro team with Johan Museeuw, Peter van Petegem, Andreï Tchmil who was doing the World's for the first time for Belgium. It was special to stay with these guys. And the crowd was huge, even for the junior race."
It was only the beginning of a long story between the Walloon and the World Championship. He simply has ridden all of them since. After he made the u23 team for Lisbon in 2001 and Zolder in 2002, he got selected for the Elite race every year since his pro debut in 2003. This is a record in modern cycling and an admirable achievement for a rider from a major cycling nation. He also took part in the Olympic road race in 2004 and 2012 but purposely missed out on Beijing in 2008.
In the UCI Road Race World Championships in Richmond, he'll ride for Belgium for the 17th time. "The location of the race is the reason for my program to change," said the 2012 world champion. "I wanted to be on site pretty early because I don't cope very well with the time difference. Racing in Plouay allows me to arrive in the same time zone [as Worlds] for the Canadian races in Québec and Montréal." He won the 2011 Grand Prix de Québec.
"Usually in the top 10 of the world championship, there are just as many riders who have ridden Plouay and the Vuelta," he noticed. "But nine times out of ten, the world champion has done the Vuelta. Fortunately, there can be exceptions, otherwise it would mean I have no chance this year. Many World's contenders have chosen the same program as me this time, also because this Vuelta is extremely difficult."
Having won two stages at the Giro d'Italia, the GP Pino-Cerami, stage 3 of the Tour de Wallonie in addition to the second place at the Clasica San Sebastian, Gilbert considers his 2015 season to be quite good so far. "But it's too early to draw conclusions because I have big goals in the late part of the season," he declared, looking fit and just as motivated as 15 years ago in Plouay.