2012 has been a disappointing one so far for Philippe Gilbert, but the Belgian is mindful that a medal at this Saturday's Olympic road race could act as a silver lining to his well-documented troubles. Since signing for BMC at the end of last season, Gilbert has failed to win a race. By this time last season, in stark contrast, he had won 13 times and was on his way to winning the 2011 Velo d'Or.
A combination of illness, niggling injuries and problems adapting to his new surroundings have conspired to make it a year to forget, but Gilbert believes that the Olympics offer a unique opportunity for any athlete. Now that he has arrived in London, the special atmosphere that an Olympic Games provides has breathed some vigour into some tired limbs and muscles. He will enter Saturday's road race as part of a star-studded five-man Belgian team alongside Tom Boonen, Jurgen Roelandts, Greg Van Avermaet and Stijn Vandenbergh but despite the firepower in the Belgian ranks Gilbert realises that winning a medal will be a tough assignment.
"I think it's a tremendous experience to be here," Gilbert told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. "You get this chance only once every four years. We are here with 140 riders at the start so to get a medal is very difficult. But we are motivated. Yesterday I trained for three hours and my legs felt good in the last hour."
Gilbert revealed that he and his teammates have ridden Saturday's course in preparation and that they liked what they saw. He is, however, in no doubt that the entire field will face a mammoth task in stopping Great Britain's Mark Cavendish should the race turn into a bunch sprint. Their only chance, he says, is to prevent that sprint from materialising.
"It is not a heavyweight track but not really easy either," Gilbert said. "You can do the ascent of Box Hill in outer gears. I think Mark Cavendish will certainly be able to manage it. The rest of us are all together in the same boat. It is everyone against Cavendish. If we get into a sprint with him, we are beaten. We will try to set the race up differently and make it hard for him. But five of us cannot do it alone, we must count on help from the Italians and the Spanish, for example. Cavendish of course has an excellent team around him."