The Belgian struggled in the opening half of 2012 before recovering in the closing weeks of the season to win the world championships road race, but feels he is on track for an intense month of classics.
“The Tour of Oman was a good test for me, I felt a good progression compared to the Tour Down Under,” Gilbert told La Dernière Heure of his early-season racing. “I’m happy with my current level. It’s nothing like the form I had last year at the same time.”
Gilbert continues his preparation for the spring classics by lining up at Paris-Nice, which gets underway on Sunday. Gilbert will support Tejay van Garderen’s challenge for overall honours but will also be looking for a stage win – his first in the rainbow jersey – along the way.
“I couldn’t tell you which stage [suits me] even if I looked at the route,” Gilbert said. “First, I want to do a good prologue – it’s short but very technical, which I like. Beyond that, Paris-Nice is often a race of opportunities. A stage that should finish in a sprint can turn into a battle if there’s wind, and 30 guys can go away. It’s always a very unpredictable race.”
Although, by his own admission, Gilbert still has a couple of kilogrammes to lose before the Ardennes classics, he reiterated that he is pleased with his status as the classics approach. He also noted that March form is a reliable pointer for what is to come the following month.
“I learned last year that you never make up for a setback early in the season. It takes months. You plug the gaps by the Tour, but not before it,” Gilbert said. “To go well in April and fight for the win at the Tour of Flanders or Liège, you need to be good already now, otherwise it’s a write-off. You can do what I did last year – show some sparks, get a placing – but at then Liège, I wasn’t in the mix.”
While Gilbert’s early-season has run smoothly thus far, the same cannot be said of Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). The Belgian’s winter was marred by an intestinal infection and the beginning to his campaign was then delayed by an elbow infection.
“I don’t know anything about it, you’d need to ask him,” Gilbert said refusing to stoke any Belgian rivalry. “I’m not on his team. I saw him for five days in Oman, I can’t give an opinion on it.”