Philippe Gilbert was still gasping for air a few seconds after finishing fourth on the uphill sprint in Arezzo on stage 3 of Tirreno-Adriatico but he was happy to stop and talk about his intense effort after finally showing an impressive flash of spring form.
The BMC team management had been left perplexed by Gilbert's modest results in the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of Oman but his attack on the uphill finish on the cobbled streets of medieval Arezzo indicated his form was finally blooming just in time for Milan-San Remo.
BMC's poor team time trial result was a blow to Cadel Evans' overall hopes of overall success but perhaps resulted in Gilbert having the freedom to target the stage victory in Arezzo. Evans lost a further 12 seconds to Kwiatkowski but Gilbert rediscovering his form is good news for the American team.
The BMC team rode to protect Gilbert and then teammate Danilo Wyss set him up for a played attack, aimed to catch Sagan off guard before the sprint to the line.
"That was intense effort," Gilbert explained just past the finish area as he sipped on a drink.
"I had a perfect lead out from Danilo Wyss because we know each other so well and he knows what to do to help me. I knew that if I waited too long then maybe it would be hard against Sagan in a straight line sprint. I tried to go faster into the corner so that I could choose the best line. I tried everything but it didn’t quite work."
Gilbert insisted he had never been worried about finding his form for the spring Classics.
"I've been saying that I'd be okay for months. I knew I knew I was heading in the right direction. This result is good for my confidence."
Gilbert is not expected to challenge during the weekend's mountain stages. Instead he will use Saturday's 240km stage to Selvarotonda and Sunday's 192km ride to Guardiagrele to accumulate some quality miles of hilly racing.
"My base form is good but now I just want to work more and improve," he said, clearly buoyed by his best performance of 2014.
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