Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) brought the curtain down on his season with an attacking display at Saturday's Il Lombardia, but the Belgian is already looking ahead to 2018 and his quest to inscribe all five of cycling's Monuments on his palmarès.
Already a winner of the Tour of Lombardy (2009 and 2010) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (2011), Gilbert claimed a remarkable solo victory at this year’s Tour of Flanders, a triumph that has renewed his longstanding ambition to complete the full set of Monuments, with only Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix remaining.
"It wasn't a surprise because I'd prepared all winter for it, I'd worked enormously hard," Gilbert told RTBF. "I didn't imagine attacking from so far out, but afterwards, my feeling was of 'mission accomplished'."
Milan-San Remo has felt the preserve of the sprinters for much of Gilbert's career, but he wondered if Michal Kwiatkowski's win in 2017 might change the approach of several teams next time around. Gilbert's Quick-Step teammate Julian Alaphilippe – third in 2017 – and Fernando Gaviria will surely also have designs on victory on the Via Roma next year.
"Milan-San Remo is a race that's open to a lot of riders and it's very hard to win, but Kwiatkowski has given a lot of motivation to attacking riders like me," Gilbert said. "He has shown that the break can go all the way. I think that is going to change the selections of a lot of teams next year."
Gilbert has raced Paris-Roubaix just once in his professional career, when he placed 52nd in 2007. Despite his Flanders win this season, Gilbert was not part of Quick-Step's line-up at the Hell of the North, preferring to rest ahead of Amstel Gold Race, but following the retirement of Tom Boonen and the departure of Matteo Trentin, he could well figure next April.
"I don't have a lot of experience at Roubaix. But I think it's a race that is decided a lot by endurance," Gilbert said. "There are a lot of kilometres where you’re at a very high intensity on the cobbles. You can't hide. Everybody suffers on the pavé in one way or another, which isn't the case on a climb. You can't lie on the pavé, and that's why it's often the best rider who wins at the end of Paris-Roubaix."
The 2018 season will see the number of riders per team at the start line of each Classic reduced from eight to seven and, though Gilbert is sceptical as to whether the new measure will improve safety in the peloton, he believes that it will lend itself to more aggressive racing.
"If they removed motorbikes from the peloton, the [safety] effect would be a lot more obvious," Gilbert said. "Teams are going to have to make more specific and precise choices. I think that will give a chance to escapees."
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