With the spring classics in mind, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) admitted that he was reluctant to take undue risks during the technical prologue of Paris-Nice in Houilles on Sunday, and the world champion duly completed the 2.9km course in 34th place, some 8 seconds down on surprise winner Damien Gaudin (Europcar).
“I was expecting a better time as it was a nice course for me but clearly I didn’t want to take too many risks on the corners,” Gilbert said shortly after crossing the line. “I didn’t want to fall with so many big races coming up in the next few weeks.”
In spite of a solid start to the season, Gilbert is still searching for his first victory in the rainbow jersey of world champion. While the rolling terrain later in the week at Paris-Nice should provide him with a number of opportunities to open his account, the Belgian explained that he is in France primarily to prepare for the classics and help teammate Tejay van Garderen.
“It’s a very important week and a very nice race with some stages to try and win, but my main role is to help van Garderen for the general classification,” Gilbert said. “This race is a passage obligé for the classics, along with Tirreno-Adriatico – you have to do one or the other. You take on an enormous workload over the course of the week and you go better when you come out the other side.”
While Gilbert soft-pedalled back towards the BMC hotel in nearby Montesson, his teammate Tejay van Garderen was launching his bid to become the third American to win Paris-Nice.
Fifth overall last year, van Garderen lines up as one of the principal favourites this time around, although he came away disappointed with his prologue. The American yielded ten seconds and finished a lowly 59th, although he pointed out that the gaps would be somewhat more significant come Montagne de Lure and Col d’Èze.
“Prologues are a funny thing – sometimes you do a good one, sometimes you do a bad one,” van Garderen said. “I’m glad it wasn’t a complete disaster but I would have liked to have done a bit better. There’s a long way until we get to Nice. This is only a handful of seconds; some big time will be lost in the upcoming stages.”