It's been three years since Belgium's Philippe Gilbert won the World Championship in Valkenburg and after tasting that success, and wearing the rainbow jersey for one season, the Classics-specialist is looking to add a second title to his career in the elite men's road race Sunday in Richmond, Virginia.
"Winning [the world title] again would be something special," Gilbert said Thursday in a press conference held at the base of cobbled climb through Libby Hill Park.
"When you have known this feeling, you just want to make it again but everyone has the same goals and there are a lot of contenders this year with sprinters, guys who can have a nice final, and there are five or six riders for this year's World Championship, and so it's always hard."
Among the hand full of favourites to win the elite men's road race were sitting on either side of Gilbert in the press conference: compatriots Tom Boonen, who won the title in Madrid in 2005, and Greg Van Avermaet. They are often rivals during the season but Gilbert claimed that having two other teammates capable of winning a world title would give the Belgian team an advantage over rival nations.
"It's always better to have a few riders and a few different cards to play because you never know what can happen in this race but we can work this out," Gilbert said.
"It's a strong point because some teams only have one guy to play on, but we have different tactics that are possible like following some moves in the final, waiting for the sprints … that is always something. We have tactics."
Gilbert had a strong start to the 2015 season with two podium finishes and second over all at the Tour Cycliste International du Haut Var-matin but his Spring Classics campaign left something to be desired with his best performance a 10th place at the Amstel Gold Race.
He geared his training toward a strong Giro d'Italia where he captured two stage victories; stage 12 in Vicenza and stage 18 in Verbania. He was ruled out for BMC’s Tour de France team because of a fractured tibia but came back strong at the end of July with a victory at the Grand Prix Cerami, a stage win at the Tour de Wallonie, second at Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian, fourth overall at the Eneco Tour and back to back top ten placings at the WorldTour races in Quebec City and Montreal.
"I had a good Giro d'Italia in May and after I had some period with more rest," Gilbert said. "After that I was building up for the Worlds. I think my form is already peaking from San Sebastian, I was already good then, and right now I'm at pretty much the same level."
As for Sunday's World Championship road race, Gilbert believes that the decisive moment will come within the final four kilometres of the race, over the three successive climbs though Libby Hill Park, up 23rd Street and over Governor Street toward the finish line.
He believes that it will be at this point during the men's nearly 260km race that the field will be single file, gaps will form and positioning for a final attack will be the most important factor in deciding who will be the next world champion.
"I did everything I could do beforehand, like training well, I was also here early and this helped me a lot. I think I gave everything for the Worlds, so I can only be relaxed," Gilbert said.
"Now the stress will come in the race, especially in the final and then with this finish, the last four kilometres, you really have to make the right decision at the right moment.
"Positioning will be important and if you have to move, you have to move in the right moment. You cannot miss it."
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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
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