It's been a long, hard struggle, but Philippe Gilbert's performances in the first two Ardennes Classics in recent days have offered signs that the 2011 Velo d'Or winner is fighting back to something close to his best form. Gilbert has under-performed by his own lofty standards since moving to BMC from Omega Pharma-Lotto in the off-season with a combination of new surroundings and niggling fitness problems hindering his progress.
A sixth place finish at the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday was followed by a third place finish at Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday. Gilbert won both of those races in 2011 on his way to completing a memorable Ardennes treble at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and with the latter coming up this weekend, Gilbert's fans will be hoping that he can improve again and finish the Classics season in style.
There have been more voices of dissent than encouragement in recent weeks but Gilbert has found an ally in the shape of Bernard Hinault. The Frenchman, one of cycling's all-time greats and the winner of ten Grand Tours and seven Classics in his glittering career, has rounded on Gilbert's critics and said he has a chance to shut them up on Sunday.
"I do not understand why some people have already placed his head on a chopping block," Hinault said of the Belgian. "A bad Spring is not a bad season - there is still a long time to go," he told Het Laatste Nieuws.
"In the Amstel Gold Race he did well, and he was third in the Huy [La Fleche Wallonne]. On Sunday in Liege he can win. Whoever wants to win will have to show courage and responsibility. Sunday is a great opportunity to silence his critics."
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