Gilbert 'little choice' but to race Paris-Roubaix despite breathing problems

Belgian Philippe Gilbert of Lotto Soudal at the start of the fifth stage of 80th edition of the ParisNice cycling race from SaintJustSaintRambert to SaintSauveurdeMontagut 1888 km in France Thursday 10 March 2022 BELGA PHOTO DAVID STOCKMAN Photo by DAVID STOCKMANBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images
Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) at Paris-Nice (Image credit: DAVID STOCKMANBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images)

After last year's wet Paris-Roubaix saw race debutant Florian Vermeersch take an unexpected second place finish, his Lotto Soudal team will be hoping for more of the same this Sunday, even if the Belgian team has faced a complicated lead-up to the race.

23-year-old Vermeersch leads the team this Sunday, though he has endured a testing spring beset by bad luck. So far this season his top result has been 23rd position at Scheldeprijs, while Victor Campenaerts has stolen the limelight with a series of impressive rides on the cobbles without turning them into major results.

The pair will be joined at Paris-Roubaix by veteran teammate Philippe Gilbert, winner in 2019, who rides his last edition of the race ahead of retirement at the end of the season. 

The 39-year-old was hit by bronchitis at the end of March and said that has had trouble breathing during recent races.

"I still have trouble breathing," Gilbert said during the team's pre-race press conference. 

"Especially at Amstel Gold Race, when I had to do those hard climbing efforts, I didn't get enough oxygen.

"I do have a better eye for Roubaix, which is more like one long effort than those small hills. Of course, ideally, it would be better to be in top shape, but that is not in my control.

"I'm here mainly to pass on my experience. Of course, I hope to play a role, not just ride along, but I haven't shown anything this season, so it won't be easy. I'll be happy to participate and finish within one or two minutes of the winner, not somewhere anonymous."

Gilbert noted that, in an ideal world, he wouldn't be racing this weekend. However, he said that he had was little choice in the matter with his team battling to stay in the WorldTour for 2023 and beyond.

"There is little other choice," he explained. "There's a lot of pressure in the team to race. Tim Wellens had to go to France to race immediately after Brabantse Pijl. The team doesn't have it easy, there is a lot of stress around the points to stay in the WorldTour.

"There is no long-term vision anymore. We live from week to week, almost from day to day. There is a lot of pressure."

Vermeersch, meanwhile, is set to take on the leadership role for the Queen of the Classics, and said that he hopes to avoid some of the bad luck which has hit him so far during the cobbled Classics season.

"I haven't been able to show myself yet and that's a bit disappointing. Unfortunately, I have suffered with crashes and punctures, and I've also had back problems because of that and it's annoying. I can't do much about it and have to learn to deal with it. Hopefully the tide will turn soon."

Vermeersch said that he didn't feel under pressure to get a result this Sunday, however, despite Gilbert's talk of the battle for WorldTour points. At 23, he'll have more chance in future, he said.

"It's not that I have to save my spring in Roubaix or that it has to happen now. The season is long, and I am still young. I'll get many chances in the spring. The past weeks have been frustrating, but I can't do much about it. I'll start with a mentality of 'anything is possible'."

The team's third big name is Campenaerts, who this year switched focus from time trialling to the Classics and has scored some good results along the way including top fives at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Dwars door Vlaanderen.

He told Cyclingnews that he's racing Roubaix in full support of Vermeersch rather than ong again going for his own chances.

"I'm tired," he said after the team's pre-race recon. "I hope to be in a good support of the team. Especially Florian, who was second last year. We'll see.

"I would say 8 out of 10," he rated his spring season. "I had some bad luck. I would've loved to win Dwars. I didn't succeed but I tried. After this race I'll take a week off and prepare for what's coming next."

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