Philippe Gilbert (BMC) is holding out hope that he can pull off the stage win he has been hunting at this year's Vuelta a Espana. As the race enters its second half, the Belgian champion says there are possibly two more chances for him to post a victory salute and one of those will be on Thursday's stage 12 from Los Corrales de Buelna to Bilbao.
"The goal was to win a stage, and it is still to win a stage, so we're still trying to make this happen," Gilbert told Cyclingnews in a phone interview on the first rest day.
"It's possible that I could do well in stage 12. I think it will be a breakaway. We have to figure out how to control this day, and I have to be there to join that group and make it happen. But it's always hard."
Stage 12 presents a 193.2km race with four climbs; Puerto de Las Alisas, Alto la Escria and two final climbs over Alto El Vivero, which is 4.2km climb and has an 8.5% grade topping out just 13km from the finish line.
Gilbert said that with the exception of the overall contenders, almost every other rider in the peloton is also be hunting a stage win and so making that happen for himself will be the biggest challenge.
"Yes, I was looking at all the stages coming into this last half of the race, and much of it favours the climbers and the really light guys. It will be really hard for me but there are one or maybe two stages that are a possibility for me.
"Unfortunately, there are many riders who want the same thing as me. There are only 15 to 20 riders who are really doing the race and everyone else is trying to go in breakaways and to have a chance at a stage win. We all have the same goal so it won't be easy."
BMC has had a strong start to the Vuelta a Espana. After placing second on stage 4 in San Andrés de Teixido, Darwin Atapuma led the overall classification for four consecutive days - stages 4 though stage 8, until Nairo Quintana attacked on the road to La Camperona and took the lead. In addition, Jean-Pierre Drucker was eighth on stage 5, Ben Hermans fourth on stage 6 and Gilbert was fourth on stage 7.
Following stage 11's mountain final to Peña Cabarga, Samuel Sanchez was positioned 10th overall and Darwin Atapuma had slipped to 17th overall.
"It was nice to have Atapuma in the jersey for a few days and everyone worked hard for him to keep that lead," Gilbert said. "It was a nice moment when the entire team was working for this jersey, to see the team work among us."
Gilbert has a had ample success at the Vuelta a Espana in previous years. He took an uphill win in Malaga and another in Toledo in 2010. He also won two stages in the 2012 edition in Barcelona and La Lastrilla. And he won a fifth stage in 2013 in the city of Tarragona.
Asked if he would be disappointed if he did not win a stage at this year's Vuelta a Espana, Gilbert said, "My goal is always to try and win a stage. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't.
"Sometimes I've won two stages of this Grand Tour and sometimes I've won nothing. It won't be the first time, if I don't win a stage this time."
Belgian champion to end five-year term with BMC in Italy
Gilbert's season doesn't end upon the conclusion of the Vuelta a Espana on September 11 in Madrid. He will next travel to Italy to compete in a series of one-day races: Giro dell'Emilia (September 24), Tre Valli Varesine (September 27), Giro del Piemonte (September 29) and Il Lombardia (October 1).
"I have just four races to go," he told Cyclingnews. "Some of these races I have not done before but I'm happy to race them for the first time. I've always loved racing in Italy. It's always a special place to race. I think it has been a successful country for me, so I hope it is again this year."
Gilbert is a two-time winner at Il Lombardia in the 2009 and 2010 editions. His time racing in Italy will end his five-year term with BMC, before moving to Eitxx-QuickStep in 2017, and he said he would love nothing more than to bring the American squad one last victory on Italian roads at Il Lombardia.
"Winning Il Lombardia would be a great way to end my year. That would be really nice."
Gilbert kept his thoughts on his move to Patrick Lefevere's Etixx-QuickStep team under wraps, as will remain the case until he meets with his soon-to-be new boss in December where the two will further discuss his role on the team and targeted events next season.
"I don't have too much to say about this," said Gilbert, who was courted by Lefevere in previous years but a contract never materialized. "I'm happy to join Etixx [now]. I still have to meet with the team to find out what we want to accomplish together - what will be our goals. I haven't had time to speak with the team fully yet but I will know more in December."
Gilbert is known for having a passion for the Ardennes Classics having won all three events: La Fleche Wallonne (2011), Liege-Bastonge-Liege (2011) and Amstel Gold Race (2010, 2011 and 2014). Etixx-QuickStep already has two notable riders in Dan Martin and Julian Alaphilippe, who have a similar eye on the Ardennes each season.
Gilbert declined to comment in detail on the potential working relationship with his new teammates during the Ardennes Classics season but concluded by saying, "We will see. I don't know what races I will be targeting next year."