With characteristics akin to Paolo Bettini, Philippe Gilbert is Belgium's biggest young gun behind superstar Tom Boonen. Growing in stature and palmarès each year, he'll attempt to ride the fiercest classic of all in 2007, as Jean-François Quénet discovered at the Française des Jeux training camp.
Watching the sea isn't a part of the everyday life of a citizen of the Belgian Ardennes but Philippe Gilbert had an opportunity to breathe the fresh air of the Atlantic Ocean during the five days training camp in the marine centre of Pen Bron near Nantes last week.
It followed the usual annual party of the Française des Jeux team fan club that saw 1,500 members attend. On Saturday, December 9, team manager Marc Madiot announced the winners of the series he personally organises for under-17 cyclists. He also introduced five newcomers: Thierry Marichal (ex-Cofidis), Sébastien Chavanel (ex-Bouygues Telecom), neo-pros Johan Lindgren from Sweden and Tim Gudsell from New Zealand - who enchanted his team-mates with a spectacular demonstration of the haka - as well as future pro Mikaël Chérel, who will be joining the team on August 1.
"It's always exciting to get to know our new team-mates," said 24 year-old Gilbert from their pre-season training camp in the west of France, an FDJ rider since 2003. After introducing Christophe Detilloux to Madiot last year, he is now able to bring compatriot Marichal along, perhaps best known for his service to top team leaders such as Andreï Tchmil at Lotto. "It's important to create a core," said Gilbert.
"Human resources are the key to success in cycling. When I prolonged my contract with Marc Madiot, we agreed on signing one or two Belgian riders. Maybe there'll be another one next year. Marichal is a specialist for the classics. He's one of the best domestiques in cycling. In this sport, as far as I know, rarely does a rider win alone without help."
To read the full interview with Philippe Gilbert, click here.