Philippe Gilbert (BMC) has confirmed that he will line up at this weekend’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, despite still suffering the after-effects of his crash at Flèche Wallonne. Gilbert injured his knee in the incident and has had trouble applying pressure on the pedals. At a press conference yesterday, Gilbert was named as the team’s leader but said that a final decision would be made on Saturday.
“It’s not better than yesterday but it’s not worse so that’s enough to start,” Gilbert said before the team presentation in Liège. “I know that I will ride with pain tomorrow but Liège-Bastogne-Liège is one of the nicest races and one of the monuments for the season. I have to start and try for the team because it’s one of my biggest goals of the season and also out of respect for everybody in the team I have to do my best.”
Before his accident, Gilbert was among the top favourites for victory this Sunday. He was unable to defend his title at Amstel Gold last week, but looked strong in the finale. The crash and subsequent injuries leaves him unsure of where he stands against his rivals. “I was very confident after Amstel because I was in very good shape and ready, so I knew that I was going to be fighting for the win because when you fight for the win in Amstel you fight for the win in Liège,” he said.
“Now there are question marks around this because I don’t know if I’ll be able to follow the best when we go really deep in the last five or 10 kilometres. They’re always extreme efforts and I don’t know if I can handle this.”
Gilbert was unable to train the day after Flèche Wallonne but took part in a three-hour training ride on Friday – separate to the team, who were reconnoitring the Liège course. It’s not just his knee that is troubling him and he is unable to sustain one position for very long. “I can’t sit comfortably because of the pain I have in different parts of my body and I have to search for a different position every five minutes. It’s not the perfect way to race but like I said I’ve got to try,” he said.
With an injured Gilbert, the team are adamant that they will not be working on the front, unsure of whether he will have the form to compete in the finale. If Gilbert is lacking in the finish, the team will have to look elsewhere for success. Riders like Tejay van Garderen and Dylan Teuns, who have been on form this spring, may have to step into the Belgian’s shoes on Sunday. While the team has every confidence in their talents, experience counts for a lot.
“They’re not as experienced as Philippe in this sort of environment, it will be a little more of a challenge for them, even if they’re good, to make the right moves at the right time,” team manager Jim Ochowicz told Cyclingnews. “It’s not the first move that goes that wins, so it’s going to be a little bit cat and mouse. It depends on the make-up of the groups as they go.”