After a disappointing start to his BMC career, Philippe Gilbert showed fleeting signs of his former self with a ferocious acceleration on the slopes of the Cauberg in the finale of Amstel Gold Race at the weekend. Though he eventually faded to finish sixth, Gilbert admitted that his confidence has been boosted ahead of Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne.
"I'm satisfied, the fact that I had a respectable result is good for my morale and helps me recover a little faster," Gilbert said. "I knew my condition would come back one day and I’m happy to be better, it's much easier.”
Even so, Gilbert admitted that he was still not at the same level that carried him to victory at Amstel, Flèche and Liège-Bastogne-Liège 12 months ago.
“I’m not yet 100 per cent, but I can sense that it’s coming along. At this level you have to be at your best and you pay for any little thing that’s lacking,” he said. “My condition has been getting better day after day for a few weeks, so time is on my side, it’s my biggest ally.”
Gilbert listed his dauphin of last year, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), among the men to watch on the slopes of the Mur de Huy on Wednesday. “I think that Katusha in general [will be favourite], because they have many cards to play, like Oscar Freire and Joaquim Rodriguez,” he said. “They have a very strong team here, so for me they’re the favourites, especially with this type of finish.”
Gilbert and his BMC team climbed the Mur de Huy twice on Tuesday as part of their reconnaissance of the route of Flèche Wallonne, which sees the Côte d’Amay and the Côte de Villers-le-Bouillet added to the finale this year.
“This route might lead to a break that goes from distance or to an even bigger group coming to the finish together,” Gilbert said. “I think the race will probably be easier than before, which doesn’t necessarily play into my favour.”
The reasons behind Gilbert’s low-key performances prior to Amstel Gold have been the subject of intense scrutiny in his home media in recent weeks, but the Belgian insisted that his morale had remained intact.
“I’m going well, and it did me good to be up there [at Amstel – ed.],” he said. “After that, you can be sure that I won’t be satisfied unless I get another good result. And I’ll be very happy if I win.”