Philippe Gilbert may not be lining up at Strade Bianche this weekend but the BMC man spent time in Italy earlier this week to reconnoitre a pair of stages in the Giro d'Italia's testing opening days in Liguria.
Gilbert is set to return to the Giro this May for the first time since 2009, when he claimed victory on the short hilltop finish on the penultimate stage in Anagni on the penultimate day. This time around, his focus is on the first week, where he will target an early spell in the pink jersey of race leader.
After riding at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne at the weekend, Gilbert travelled to Italy to reconnoitre stage 3 from Rapallo to Sestri Levante and stage 4 from Chiavari to La Spezia in the company of Damiano Caruso and directeur sportif Fabio Baldato.
"Those stages after the team time trial and the first flat road stage aren’t the easiest and he wants to take the pink jersey," BMC directeur sportif Valerio Piva told Het Laatste Nieuws.
"The fact that the Monday after Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne he travelled immediately to Italy shows that he is really keen to do the Giro. Those two tough training days also fit perfectly with his schedule before Paris-Nice."
Stage 3 travels inland from Rapallo to tackle some rugged terrain including the Colle Caprile and Barbagelata before dropping back to the finish line in Sestri Levante. There is scarcely a metre of flat on the following day's sinuous route to La Spezia, which features the climb of Biassa in the finale.
Gilbert will race Paris-Nice next week before lining up at Milan-San Remo on March 22. He will forgo the cobbled classics and instead ride the Tour of the Basque Country to build form ahead of Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
While Gilbert will hope his post-Ardennes Classics form can lead to an early maglia rosa, BMC’s new arrival Caruso, meanwhile, will lead the team’s general classification challenge. The Sicilian finished 9th overall in last year's Vuelta a España and 19th in the 2013 Giro.