With the Tour of Flanders normally having been done and dusted across the weekend just gone – but in reality postponed until some point later in the season due to the coronavirus crisis – and with the similarly postponed Paris-Roubaix otherwise having been on the horizon for the weekend coming, we're bringing you the dream teams of some of the most influential figures in cycling in lieu of any real racing.
Here, we present 'Monuments master' Philippe Gilbert's choice for his eight-rider dream team and, as per our rules, the Belgian has wisely picked himself to be one of them. The new Lotto Soudal signing, who's won four out of the sport's five biggest one-day races during his career – the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia – and is only missing Milan-San Remo from his palmarès, has picked a powerful pack of riders past and present who, were Gilbert's team to be real, would surely be able to help him race to his fifth and final Monument.
- Dream teams must feature eight riders, one of which can be the rider selecting the team – in which case they pick seven riders to join them.
- The riders picked must have all ridden with the person picking the team. That means you can't just pick the seven or eight best riders of a generation.
It was incredibly hard to pick just seven riders, says Gilbert. Over the years, I've ridden with some amazing athletes and been part of some of the best teams in the world, but when it came to creating my dream team, I've tried to pick a selection of riders that have met certain criteria. They obviously need to be world-class in the specialist discipline: whether it's sprinting, stage-racing or being a domestique. But there's more to creating a team, and that means I've also selected riders because of their commitment and their personalities off the bike.
Bradley Wiggins (FDJ)
Bradley turned pro one year before me at FDJ and went on to became a big star within cycling, but even back when we first met it was clear he had something special about him. You have to put everything back then in context, but in those days we had no emails or Whatsapp when it came to team communications, so the riders would be given confirmation over their race schedules via fax.
I remember there were times when Bradley simply wouldn't turn up for races and then just pretend like he'd never received the fax. We'd have staff waiting for him at airports but Brad would be nowhere to be seen. He'd say nothing, and never explain, but then at the next race he'd show up and be motivated and ready.
I did a number of races with him, but one that stands out was the Tour de l'Avenir. He won the prologue and we had a really strong team. We managed to keep Brad in the leader's jersey, but the weather was really bad on one particular stage and we were at the front hammering it for Brad when all of a sudden the director comes on the radio and says: "You can stop riding now because Brad is sat next to me in the car." He stopped racing while we were riding and never even told us.
That was our last race together but it still makes me smile when I think about him. He could be funny at times but he could be really closed off at other points. Sometimes he wouldn't talk to us, but other times he would be joking around like everyone else. It was always a surprise.
At the time, I didn't know he would go on to win the Tour de France but even back then you could see he had a huge engine. He came from the track and was super serious in everything that he did, and what stood out was his ability to focus on one single goal, so you knew that when he was 'on' he was really 'on'.
André Greipel (Omega Pharma Lotto)
I couldn't put a team together that didn't include Greipel. He's a rider I'm always fond of talking about because we're roughly the same age and have been competing against each other since our junior days. He's always been straight and fair when it comes to competing, and he's a teammate that I always appreciated. Some people have criticised him for being too nice in the sprints, but he's always been respectful for the riders and the staff around him. Not just that – he's also a really hard worker.
Back in the junior ranks, I would often to have to sprint for bonus seconds because I'd be trying to compete with the best riders for the overall, but I was just off the level of the very best. It meant that I had to use the bonus seconds to take time and we'd often clash because he was there trying to pick up points for the points jersey. He was a beast, even back then.
Then, at Lotto, we formed a really strong partnership. Even when we were working for him, he would still go back to the car and pick up bottles for everyone. I've raced with some sprinters, and I won't mention any names, but as soon as they ride two centimetres in the wind, they start to complain. There are a lot of soft sprinters, but Greipel wasn't one of them. He would give everything, and then when it came to paying us back, he was always there as a faithful teammate.
Again, at Lotto, he would always give his all. He wasn't good enough to win the Flemish races, but along with him and Marcel Seiberg, we'd look at courses and analyse everything together. Then, on race day, you could count on Greipel to ride for you. Not many sprinters would do such a thing.
Christophe Detilloux (FDJ)
This might come as a surprise, but Detilloux makes my list. For me, a dream team isn't just about selecting the most famous riders in your phone contacts. It's more than that; it's about bringing together the riders I've shared memories with and those that have made an impact on my career. In the case of Detilloux, I think we both had positive effects on each other.
He was one of the first guys that I was allowed to bring to a team, and that was an important moment in my career. I was still up and coming, but winning races, and [FDJ manager] Marc Madiot asked me if needed more teammates. Detilloux came to mind almost instantly. I knew that he was based near me, so he would be a great person to train with, but he also came to the team with a lot of experience.
Madiot was happy because Detilloux didn't cost a lot, as back then we didn't have the biggest budget, but we had some good years together and later became solid friends. When he joined FDJ, he was close to the end of his racing career, but joining the team gave him a real boost. We really believed in him, and he paid us back and then some. He felt like he had a point to prove when he signed for us, and he took that motivation into every race. Again, he might not be a household name to many, but I've seen him race up close, and he had everything you want in a teammate.
Mario Aerts (Omega Pharma Lotto)
He's now my sports director at Lotto Soudal, but that's honestly not why he's on my dream team. Mario was always an inspiration for me when I was younger. He was a classy rider, and then we raced together for a few years at Lotto after I arrived from FDJ.
He always took care of me, and we shared a lot of my victories together. He was an excellent road captain in those years, and it was a special feeling to have a rider of that calibre, and one that I'd looked up to, as my sports director at a later date.
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing)
I raced with Cadel at both Lotto and BMC Racing. He's always been a special guy, but he was also an expert when it came to things like nutrition, and was always sharing his knowledge. He could sometimes be stressed when it came to racing the Grand Tours, and it wasn't always easy because he wanted to win. We didn't always have the best team, but I guess it's the same when you have one of the best guys for the GC. Those riders need to fight every second of every stage. It's different for me. I can say it doesn't matter if I'm dropped during a few stages as long as I'm good for just a few days.
But I learned a lot from Cadel. In 2009, we did the Vuelta together and I was in Spain to prepare for the Worlds. It was the first time that I was going to the Worlds with a real ambition of winning. I was super motivated and in great form, and Cadel knew that the Worlds course was going right by his house [in Switzerland]. We knew that we had the same goal, but at the Vuelta we rode together and I helped him as much as possible in the GC.
He finished on the podium and I just missed out on a stage, but I think I finished second on one stage. Then, when we arrived at the Worlds, we were both flying. We made the lead group and, even though I was disappointed to miss out on the win, I was consoled by the fact that Cadel had taken the rainbow jersey.
A few weeks later, we were racing together as teammates and he buried himself to help me win Il Lombardia by setting a pace that set me up for the perfect attack. Most riders, especially after becoming the world champion, would think about themselves, but Cadel acted like the perfect teammate. When you see the world champion riding for you, it gives you wings.
Iljo Keisse (QuickStep)
During the last three years of my career, Iljo has made a huge difference for me in the Classics. He isn't just one of the strongest domestiques in the peloton – he's also one of the smartest, too. Much of what he does happens in the first couple of hours of racing, when there are no television cameras around, but he spends all that time setting up the team and giving the rest of the riders a base from which to work.
People talk about QuickStep often having numbers in finales of racing, but that's because Iljo has taken the pressure off by riding on the front for so long. He's actually quite quiet, but he knows his job. There are guys in the peloton who have done a lot of talking on the bus or in meetings, but have vanished when the racing starts. All of a sudden, they're not so talkative, but the next day they're talking again. They're the sort of people you don't need. Iljo is the complete opposite. He's always there. He's like Luke Rowe [Team Ineos], but, sadly for Iljo, he's not paid as much.
Jelle Vanendert (FDJ)
There are so many riders I'd like to include, but the last spot goes to Vanendert, who I rode with at FDJ and then at Lotto. I helped to bring him to FDJ, and Madiot was giving me the chance to really build a team. Every year we'd look to boost the squad with one or two new riders, and Vanendert was one of the faces that stood out.
We raced together a lot at FDJ but it went to another level when we reached Lotto. We became friends off the bike, but at the very start of all this he was racing for Chocolade Jacques. Back then, I was living in the Ardennes, and I'd see him while I was out training. I always admired riders who would be out doing the long miles during the week. He was a bit like me as a rider, and he could be explosive at times. I could see the potential that he had, maybe before he could see it himself, and he improved dramatically.
He won his Tour de France stage in 2011 and we had superb season together. If you include Greipel, we each won a stage in that year's race. I tried to bring Vanendert with me to BMC Racing, but it never happened, even though I made moves every time he was out of contract.