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Can Gilbert break his duck in Ouest-France?

By:
Alex Hinds

Belgian faces stiff competition from Gerrans, Voeckler, Leukemans

The GP Ouest France - Plouay takes place in Brittany on Sunday, 28th August, with a stacked field lining up for the one-day classic.

The riders will face up to 13 laps of a 19.1km circuit that takes the riders north into the surrounding towns of Kerihuel and Le Faouet before turning back toward Plouay. Three climbs and around 300 meters of altitude covered on each lap may not seem much, but the riders' legs will really be burning as the race approaches the downhill finish at kilometer 248.

A former world championships route, the parcours will suit the puncheurs, though sprinters like last year’s winner Matthew Goss who can hang on in the climbs are also a threat.

The contenders

There is no rider better suited to the course than Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), and it’s hard to look past the Belgian, who will start the race a short-priced favourite. With 13 professional victories already in 2011, the Belgian will be hard to beat in Plouay. Perhaps the only thing counting against him is his record at the race. His best result, 19th in 2009, is surprising considering the race seems well-suited to the Walloon.

If Gilbert is unable to overcome his demons at the race, look out for former winners Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Simon Gerrans (Sky) or an in-form Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) to be in the mix. After a disappointing spring, Leukemans finally appears to be carrying some good condition, and showed himself to be a level above at the recent Tour du Limousin.

Voeckler’s run at the Tour de France defied the expectations of many, and has shown the Frenchman to be a much stronger rider than pundits give him credit for. Like Gilbert, his 2011 has been superb, though questions remain over his form (except against horses), having only just returned to racing at the Tour du Poitou Charentes.

Perhaps the strongest of the trio is Simon Gerrans. The Australian has fond memories of the race, taking one of the biggest wins of his career in 2009 while racing for the now defunct Cervelo Test Team. Overall victory at the recent Tour of Denmark signaled the end of a barren run for Gerrans and there’s no reason to write-off the Australian when he’s in this sort of form.

The list of outsiders is lengthy with Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar), Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), Gerald Ciolek (Quickstep), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD), and Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) all in good form. Vital UCI points are on the line, and with many teams fighting for their top-tier status the racing will be fierce on Sunday.