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Gilbert: Better to have a race with no crowds than no race at all

Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) on the stage 4 time trial at the 2020 Paris-Nice
Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) on the stage 4 time trial at the 2020 Paris-Nice (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Lotto Soudal's Philippe Gilbert has told the Belgian media that he's looking forward to returning to racing at Strade Bianche on August 1, but remains extremely wary of the continuing coronavirus pandemic, and says that if he and his colleagues have to race without spectators when, and if, racing resumes, that it's better than having no racing at all.

"I like watching other sports, and Formula 1 has been able to resume without any spectators," Gilbert told Belgian public-service broadcaster RTBF on Monday. "It's true that it does feel a bit weird, but at least there's some racing, which is the main thing, and there's television coverage and media to follow what happens.

"Even if we [in cycling] only manage to do that, then that will be the main thing – that we'll be able to still put on an entertaining race," said the 38-year-old, who joined Lotto Soudal this year from Deceuninck-QuickStep. "Even though we like normally being able to interact with fans, it's better to be able to have a race with no crowds than no race at all."

According to RTBF, Gilbert's currently attending a training camp with his teammates in the Vosges mountain range in eastern France, but is targeting this year's Milan-San Remo – rescheduled for August 8 – in the hope of 'completing the set' of winning all five of professional racing's biggest one-day Classics, and will resume his season a week before San Remo at Strade Bianche.

"We're operating in 'bubbles'," Gilbert explained. "We're trying to stay in the same small group, with the same people. Here at our training camp, we only have one mechanic and two soigneurs, so we're getting by with the bare minimum – almost as though we were a Continental-level team.

"We don't really know how this historic return-to-racing will go," he said. "The UCI, the race organisers and the teams have put a lot of rules in place, and all those protocols must be respected in order to start the races – providing there are races. It's become worrying again, looking at the current situation and seeing the number of people becoming ill again rising every day.

"There are two compulsory [COVID-19] tests before the races, which isn't very pleasant, but it's part of the job," said Gilbert. "We have no choice, so let's just get on with it."