Gilbert better, still not great ahead of Ardennes Classics

The Brabantse Pijl turned out to be a reasonable test for Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC), and while he did not defend his first of four consecutive wins in the hillier one-day races that follow after Paris-Roubaix from 2011, he did finish near the front of the peloton. Gilbert was 12th some two minutes behind winner Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), and the Belgian champion fears that he will not be able to keep up with the favorites in the Ardennes Classics.

Gilbert said he shouldn't be regarded as a favorite for the Amstel Gold Race nor the other Ardennes classics La Fleche Wallonne and Liège - Bastogne - Liège. "The only goal I have right now is finding back my form from last year. We'll see if it comes or not. It's not fun right now because it's hard to analyze what is going wrong. There can be a lot of reasons. Last year has been extremely hard – both mentally and physically – and there was the team switch. It's normal that you get a whiplash after such a year," Gilbert said. "I'm not hiding away. I'm right where I belong to be."

The BMC rider put in a few attacks in the latter half of the race, and showed reasonable form when he protected a move from teammate Greg Van Avermaet by marking a counter-attack from Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol).

Shortly after these accelerations, Voeckler attacked the remainder of the peloton and started his successful solo ride. In the chase on Voeckler there were several attempts to distance the peloton but Gilbert failed to get into the right move while rain and hail tortured the riders. Having Van Avermaet up the road made Gilbert eventually settle for a role in the cold background.

A couple of minutes after the race a relaxed Gilbert talked with the press while standing in the doorway of the BMC team bus. He didn't use his training block of ten days in Monaco as an excuse for his absence in the front of the race deep into the finale. "Last year I've won this race as well after doing a lot of training so that's not an excuse. If I could've been in that breakaway I would've. But we had Van Avermaet in the breakaway so I was stuck in the peloton because of the team tactics," Gilbert said.

Wednesday's performance was his best so far this season and Gilbert actually enjoyed his race. "It was a really fast race. It was slippery and there were a lot of crashes. It took some risks but not an awful lot. This was a good training. with good intensity because of the accelerations after the corners and on the hills."

Still, Gilbert feels that he is far from ready to take on the big guns in the Ardennes classics. "You have to be realistic: I'm not a favorite. In the Amstel you can get a result with some pilotage and good positioning but there's no hiding possible in the finale. I don't think I'll be up front with the favorites. In order to win I need to anticipate, but if you're Philippe Gilbert that's no longer possible. So I'll have to follow and hang on as long as possible," Gilbert said.

If there's a benefit to his lackluster form so far this season then it might be that the super-strong rider Gilbert from last year turns out to be only a human after all. "I was human last year as well," Gilbert declared. When a journalist asked Gilbert if it wasn't superhuman Gilbert denied. "No, that was normal as well if you look at the progression and the results I got. It was always logical. I've had three nice seasons but before those I rode like I do right now."

Since his move from the Omega Pharma-Lotto team to BMC the Belgian rider hasn't been able to live up to the high expectations. Nevertheless Gilbert pointed out that the team isn't unhappy with him right now. "They don't put pressure on me. They respect my form. Of course things are not going as we would want to but that's sport. A season is long and I signed for three years. You've got to look at the whole picture. I'm looking at the long term. My career has been nice already. I'm not panicking."

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