Philippe Gilbert has described the decision by his Deceuninck-QuickStep team not to select him for the Tour de France as 'incomprehensible', revealing it will play a part in any decision to leave the Belgian squad and end his prestigious career elsewhere.
Gilbert finished third in the one-day Halle-Ingooigem race on Wednesday and vented his frustration before the start. The Paris-Roubaix winner revealed he was informed of his non-selection on Monday evening by directeur sportif Tom Steels.
"I am very disappointed. The decision is incomprehensible," Gilbert told Belgian media at Halle-Ingooigem. "I worked hard to ride the Tour, I really wanted to ride this Tour, because it starts in Brussels and because I had to give up last year after a fall. It is a disappointment and a surprise.
"This decision was imposed on me, that's not nice but apparently it's also part of the sport." Gilbert said of the lack of consultation on the final eight riders for the Tour de France.
Elia Viviani, Julian Alaphilippe and Enric Mas will lead Deceuninck-QuickStep at the Tour de France with Yves Lampaert, Michael Mørkøv, Max Richeze, Dries Devenyns and promising debutante Kasper Asgreen selected to help the Italian target the sprints, especially the opening stage in Brussels.
The stage 2 team time trial is also a major goal, with Deceuninck-QuickStep knowing victory could secure them the Tour de France leader's yellow jersey for several days. Mas, who placed second at last year's Vuelta a España, will be the team's protected GC leader, with Alaphilippe given carte blanche to target hilly stages.
Alaphilippe has signed a new contract for 2020 and beyond, while Lampaert and Asgreen are seen as key riders for the future. Gilbert, like Viviani and Mas are likely to move on in 2020 as team manager Patrick Lefevere struggles to find the budget to pay his biggest stars and young talents but they are considered as vital to the success of Deceuninck-QuickStep at this year's Tour de France.
Reports in Belgium suggest Gilbert has not been offered a new contract despite being one of the biggest names in the peloton and his win at Paris-Roubaix.
"I'm at the end of the contract. In the coming weeks it will become clear what I will do," Gilbert said, refusing to say if he will leave Deceuninck-QuickStep at the end of the 2019 season.
"This will certainly play a role in my decision. That makes sense. I have always made the choice of a team depend on sporting criteria. That's why I won the races I won. I want to keep it that way. I want to remain a rider for another two years. I have many contacts. Many managers called me on Wednesday morning. A decision like this is not good for my future and I now pass everything on to my manager. That's his job."
"I am not worried about my future. I still have a few goals that I want to achieve. I'm going to do everything for that."
Staying positive in life
Gilbert tried to stay upbeat about missing what would have been his tenth Tour de France.
"I think of my friend Chris Froome who now has much bigger problems. I would rather be in my situation than his," Gilbert said.
"You have to stay positive in life, I think. Part of me does not agree with the decision. But I will live with it.
"It's apparently a sporting decision. To be able to analyze a decision, you must first understand it and I can't possibly understand them but it's been decided. But I'm a professional, I'm now concentrating on the races that I will ride. There's a World Championship on a course that suits me very well, maybe that will be my last chance to become a world champion." Gilbert remains Deceuninck-QuickStep's first reserve for the Tour de France until the eve of the race but will then begin to think about the rest of the season.
"I don't wish anything to happen to any of my teammates, I'd rather not go to the Tour that way. I honestly hope the team does well, that they win where they can win. I will be the first supporter. It's not because I don't ride the Tour myself that I now have a bitter feeling towards my teammates. I will follow the Tour. It's hard not to do that.
"I have other goals this season and this decision allows me to prepare optimally for them. I'm going to take a little vacation in July and have fun. I have no stress now. I have to rearrange my life and my calendar. I'm not going to do any hasty things either now."