Philippe Gilbert has admitted that his Omega Pharma-Lotto team’s absence from the Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman could hinder his preparation for Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. The Belgian began his season on the Arabian Peninsula in 2010 but his team failed to secure invitations to the races there this time around.
“It’s annoying not to be going there,” Gilbert told DHnet.be. “I was the combined fault of the team and the organisers. Those two races are good preparatory events. You work on your speed there, you ride in the wind and you also get back to riding as a team again.”
Gilbert is currently training in Mallorca and will begin his season there at the Challenge Mallorca, before training in Monaco. While he believes that the riders coming from Oman will be to the fore come the end of February, Gilbert acknowledges that by the time April’s classics come around, he will be back up to speed.
“During the opening weekend [of the Belgian season] at Het Nieuwblad, we’ll feel the difference in level between those who did Qatar and Oman and those who’ll have Mallora, Algarve or anything else in their legs. But in two months, this difference of five days less of racing won’t count anymore.”
In March, Gilbert will ride Tirreno-Adriatico rather than Paris-Nice but he insists that he has not decided to ride the Italian race simply because it is a more successful springboard for Milan-San Remo glory.
“It’s not because the winner of Milan-San Remo has come out of Tirreno-Adriatico since 1999 but because I needed to change,” Gilbert said. “I’ve done Paris-Nice seven times, which has become more of a race for the climbers and which is always run off in difficult and wearying weather conditions. I’ve never done anything much there, I’ve never even won a stage, and furthermore, I love the Italian races.”
Gilbert will return to France in July, however, and he freely admits that the opening week of the Tour de France appears to be well-suited to his characteristics. He took two uphill stage wins at last year’s Vuelta a España and is bullish about his chances of replicating that kind of form in France this year.
“The route suits me really well, I can be up there in the stages with uphill finishes like the Mur de Bretagne,” Gilbert said. “It’s a good two years since I’ve been beaten on that kind of finish.
“It’s my speciality. I have great confidence in that domain. I want to win a stage, I have to have one on my palmares, as well as wearing the yellow jersey. After that, I’ll be able to help [Andre] Greipel and also [Jurgen] Van Den Broeck.”