Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) failed to make his expected impact at Sunday’s Paris-Tours and he apportioned much of the blame to Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) on crossing the finish line. Pozzato last week drew the ire of the Belgian team for his conservative tactics in the finale of the world championships road race and he was again in the firing line after the French classic.
Gilbert attempted to attack on the Côte de l’Epan on the run-in to Tours but said that he stopped once it became apparent that Pozzato was marking him tightly.
“I relented as soon as I saw that Pozzato was staying on my wheel,” Gilbert told La Derniére Heure at the finish. “It needs to be said, that’s his way of riding. All he does is try to make the favourites lose. He did that for two years in the classics with Boonen and now I’m his target.”
Pozzato was quick to pour cold water on Gilbert’s assertions and felt that the Belgian was merely looking for excuses after failing to take a third successive win at Paris-Tours in spite of his impressive recent form.
“I respect his statement, but maybe he should be a bit more honest,” Pozzato said to Gazzetta dello Sport. “I think that he didn’t have the legs, like me.”
Last week it was Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil) who criticised Pozzato’s failure to seize the initiative in Geelong and indeed last season, the Italian admitted that he is often too ponderous at the business end of races. “Opportunities kept passing me by because I’d be there turning it over 100 times in my head before reacting, and the chance would be gone,” Pozzato confessed to Procycling in 2009.
For his part, Gilbert took some consolation from his Paris-Tours as it confirmed that he was recovering well from his journey back from Australia. “The effects of the time lag had some bizarre effects on me all day,” he said. “At the start I felt good, and then I went through highs and lows: less good, better, very bad 60km from the finish, then super again in the finale. But frankly, physically and mentally, I was very good.”
After failing to shake off Pozzato on the Còte de l’Eclan, Gilbert didn’t see the need to take any risks in the sprint, won by Oscar Freire (Rabobank). “In this kind of finish, I’m not capable of touching the sprinters,” he explained. “I wouldn’t take risks to finish sixth or tenth.”
The Belgian has been in fine form in recent weeks, as demonstrated by his stunning Vuelta a España performance and his daring raid on the final lap of the world championships road race. Last season, he won both the Tour of Piedmont and the Tour of Lombardy, and Gilbert is again looking to end his season on a high note in northern Italy.
“There are two beautiful races left,” Gilbert said. “I hope to win at least one of them. I know that the finale in Lombardy has also changed [like Paris-Tours]. It’s harder, so I’ll go and reconnoitre it on Friday.”