Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert says he is “very ambitious” when it comes to defending his title but that he is “not the top favourite” and will be “racing under the radar:” He will look to repeat his victory in the World Championships road race on Sunday.
Following his dramatic victory in Valkenberg last year, Gilbert has had a tough season, with just one win to date, a brilliantly netted stage in the Vuelta a España. And although he looked in top shape when he met a mostly Belgian contingent of the international press on Friday morning, the 31-year-old seemed keen to avoid excessive pressure.
“I’m not the top favourite and I’m going try to make the most of this situation,” Gilbert said. “There’s plenty of other guys out there who can do a good race - amongst them [Peter] Sagan, [Fabian] Cancellara, Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali, [Joaquim] Rodriguez, Dani Moreno maybe, too, he’s been in good form lately.”
He also mentioned Cadel Evans - who’s in good shape and who will be racing on a course “very similar to 2009 when he won” -and added for good measure a host of Dutch riders like Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema, as well as Alexandre Kolobnev, twice a silver medallist for Russia in the Worlds “and who loves this kind of course, too.”
“The course is very hard, it’s impossible to say where it will be decided,” Gilbert added. “Breaks could go from anywhere, often there’s an attack in the World’s between the flat sections just when everybody is catching their breath, some guys come up and bang, a group of non-favourites go just when the top names are all looking at each other.”
Equally, he says, “the first part” - the long run-in to Firenze - “will be important, if three or four guys get away then everybody will work together to bring them back and we’re looking at the typical World’s where it gets faster and faster but at a steady pace, you turn around half way through and there’s only a hundred guys left and you’re not sure why.”
“But if we get 15 suddenly breaking away in that early segment, then we’re into a very different scenario altogether.”
He warned, too, that the rain, forecast for Sunday could cause some major crashes early on given there is new tarmac on much of the course “and it could be dangerous because if it rains during the course for the first time,” then “a lot of riders could go down. That descent is very fast and we will have to be careful.”
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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