Philippe Gilbert will not feature in BMC's roster for the Tour de France after a recent MRI scan revealed a small, non-displaced fracture on his lower leg. The team believes that the injury is related to his crash at Flèche Wallonne in April.
General Manager Jim Ochowicz says that he sat down with the former world road race champion and came to a mutual agreement that he would miss the Tour. Gilbert was also a non-starter ahead of stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse.
"The MRI showed a small fracture of the postero-lateral tibia head," said Dr. Max Testa, BMC's Chief Medical Officer, in a team press release. "The fracture is small, and not involving the joint articular surface and the injury is not worrisome for his cycling career. Philippe had no particular pain on the bike. But he had been complaining of knee discomfort, especially off of it, and especially going up and down stairs. So we decided to look into it."
The injury dates back to April but Gilbert’s performances in the interim don’t suggest it has afflicted him to a great extent. He won two stages and was second in the points classification at the Giro d’Italia in May, something he had hoped would seal his place in the Tour.
"I know with these problems, I can maybe go to the Tour, but not at 100 percent,” said Gilbert. “Even if I do this, I will finish the Tour completely empty and that will mean I will do everything - the Tour and the end of the season - at 80 percent. So at this point, I have to make a choice to skip the Tour. My first objective is to feel healthy again and not feel the pain anymore.
"Of course, I was motivated for the Tour because it is going to pass in a part of Belgium and there is also the nice finish on the Mur de Huy. But the Tour de France is every year. It is not like I am missing something like the Olympic Games. So every year you have a chance to do it and I have already done it a few times and have had a lot of success at this race already.”
Ochowicz was always likely to face a selection headache for July as they look for a strong general classification showing though two-time fifth-place finisher Tejay van Garderen. While Gilbert would be an ideal card for chasing stage wins in the opening portion of the race, the team has seemingly decided to put everything behind van Garderen, who rode to an extremely encouraging second place at the Critérium du Dauphiné last week.
"We had a productive and open discussion regarding his current health and the second part of his season and goals," Ochowicz said. "The eight riders that we do select to support Tejay van Garderen will be chosen based on current health and performance. We want the best eight candidates at the start in Utrecht and right now Philippe is not at his best."
The news comes just days after Gilbert complained of the uncertainty hanging over his potential presence in BMC’s plans for July. The team had clearly hesitated over his selection and had not told him their plans as early as they have in the past, something the 32-year-old felt was not appropriate for such a proven performer and someone who had just won two Grand Tour stages.
Speaking to Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, Gilbert said: "With what motivation I'm at the start? Actually, no. It's hard to motivate yourself when you have no insight into your program. Do they want me there? I have heard nothing. You should call Ochowicz. Do you have his number? I think this is already a very bizarre situation. No, I do not understand their approach.
"I'm not a neo-pro anymore. I have nothing more to prove, especially after my two stage victories in the Giro. They refuse to show me that confidence. I am fresh after the Giro, I climbed better than ever without having to overdo it. Furthermore, there are many opportunities for me in the first week of the Tour.”
Gilbert will now turn his attentions to September for the World Championships in Richmond and Il Lombardia, while BMC is expected to announce its nine-man Tour de France team sometime after the Tour de Suisse, which ends on Sunday.
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