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Alessandro Ballan (BMC)
Gilbert encouraged for upcoming Ardennes Classics
With one of the most robust and star-studded teams in the Tour of Flanders Jim Ochowicz hoped that his BMC team would feature heavily in the race. The team certainly needed a morale boosting result after a spring campaign plagued by disappointment.
At the finish of Flanders, Ochowicz could muse over a ‘mission accomplished' moment - a first step in the right direction but with more battles still to come. With Alessandro Ballan and Greg Van Avermaet the team secured third and fourth places in the race. There was even a glimmer of hope for Philippe Gilbert who featured in the race until the final set of climbs on the last lap.
"I think all-in-all, that it was a good race," Ochowicz told Cyclingnews.
"We were in all the moves today and the whole team and the group as a whole rode well, which was encouraging for us. Obviously it was one objective for us to get the whole group riding together. Today it worked well and the results were more than satisfactory from where we were before today."
Ballan's ride will have been especially pleasing. The 2007 Tour of Flanders winner was the most aggressive rider in the race, attacking on the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont and dragging Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) and Tom Boonen (Omega-Pharma QuickStep) with him.
The trio held off the pack but it was Ballan, through gritted teeth, and with his straight-arm position that attacked repeatedly in the closing stages. With the weakest sprint he had little choice, but on each occasion Boonen matched him pedal stroke for pedal stroke.
"Ballan was the most aggressive and when you're with Boonen in a group of three at the end of the race your odds are against you. I don't know who could beat Boonen right now in a sprint from this peloton. All-in-all Ballan had a good race, he was strong and he showed his true colours and then the team did well with Van Avermaet taking fourth."
Ochowicz's only criticism was directed to Pozzato. The Italian was equal to Ballan and Boonen on the climbs but on the run in to Oudenaarde the Farnese captain decided to hold onto the sprint.
"It didn't seem as if Pozzato wanted to win," Ochowicz told Cyclingnews.
"He never tried. Unless he thought he could beat Boonen in the sprint he wasn't trying to make a move like Alessandro did. I was hoping he would make a move, too, but he's got to race the race like he sees it. Maybe he thought he could beat Boonen. In this kind of race, though, I think the best rider always wins."
Counting on Gilbert
At the finish in Oudenaarde, as Ochowicz waited for his riders to finish, he was introduced to Gilbert's parents for the first time. His star Belgian has endured a difficult start to the season, made even more acute by his prowess in 2011. With his cobbled Classics over for a year attention will turn to the Ardennes where Gilbert made it an Amstel, Fleche, Liege treble last year.
The Belgian national champion attacked on the Kruisberg, bringing several riders with him. The attack was short-lived but with two weeks until the start of the Ardennes the brief venture will at the very least give Gilbert some much needed confidence.
"The race wasn't that hard in the beginning," Gilbert told Cyclingnews.
"But at 230km I had less energy. I think I need more racing. I think that's normal but things are better. I was talking with Ballan in the race and he was confident of his chances so that was why on the Kruisberg I went. I felt that I wasn't that good but I could at least try something. That was partly to help Ballan but also to help myself if the move could work, but making the race hard was good for Ballan."
Gilbert will now head home to his base in Monaco, where he will train for the next week.
"There are still almost two weeks until the Ardennes. There's a lot of training and I'll do a lot of climbs and specific training as well. Today has given me a lot of encouragement because mentally it's not been easy when you're fighting with injuries and problems. It's not the best situation for me but I know that things will be better."