Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) took stage victory and the overall lead at the Ster ZLM Toer in La Gileppe on Saturday but warned afterwards that his form must still improve ahead of the Tour de France.
On a wet day in Wallonia, Gilbert had too much for Niki Terpstra (Quick Step) and Ramunas Navardauskus (Garmin-Cervélo) on the uphill finish to take his twelfth win of the season. In spite of his triumph, however, the Belgian claimed that he is currently lacking a little spark.
“This victory gives me confidence, but I know that for the first week of the Tour, I’ll have to be even better,” Gilbert told Het Nieuwsblad.
“The bad weather affected me, and maybe that’s why I’m not going as well as at the Tour of Belgium. Things were going super there, but just good here. Probably because my body is adjusting to these changing conditions and because I have a heavy week of training behind me.”
Gilbert was part of a seven-man move that formed inside the final 40km of Saturday’s rain-struck stage. Two laps of the final 16km-long finishing circuit gave him ample opportunity to choose his moment on the final haul to the line.
“I made my effort 700 metres from the line,” he explained to La Dernière Heure. “I got a little gap straight away, even though they came very close to me again at the finish, but I was able to hold on to that precious one-second lead.”
In spite of his own heroics in the final kilometre, Gilbert was quick to credit his Omega Pharma-Lotto team for their help in setting up his winning move. His teammate Bart De Clerq was originally part of the breakaway, before dropping back on the final circuit.
“Before the finale, I didn’t say to myself that I was going to win, which sometimes happens,” he admitted. “But yet again the team protected me very well, and that allowed me to economise my efforts.”
Gilbert now holds a one-second lead over Niki Terpstra ahead of Sunday’s final stage to Etten-Leur, in the Netherlands. Two seasons ago, their roles were reversed on the same stage, and Gilbert knows that he must be vigilant if he is to retain his overall lead.
“I’m not forgetting that two years ago, it was the opposite, I was a second down on Terpstra, who was leader after the La Gileppe stage, which I had won,” he said. “But I took the jersey on the last stage thanks to a bonus sprint. So I’ll have to be very alert, because with the wind, plenty of things can happen.”
Gilbert will doubtless be hoping that his spell in yellow at the Ster ZLM Toer augurs well for the Tour de France, where the opening week seems tailor-made for his talents.
“But this isn’t the same yellow,” he smiled. “Although it’s very nice to have it.”