King of the Classics Philippe Gilbert, who turns 29 years today, had promised his girlfriend a stage victory for her 22nd birthday on the Tour's first stage on Saturday - and got it. Today, the Omega Pharma-Lotto leader again has reason to celebrate, and hopes to top his party off with a second success on the Mûr-de-Bretagne. Arguably, he is the man to beat on the 172km stage finishing with a 2km climb similar to those the Belgian knows so well in his home region of the Ardennes.
"It's a climb that should suit me well, I hope that it will be to my advantage," Gilbert told French television, albeit conceding that it will be very difficult to also take back the yellow jersey he wore after stage one.
"Cadel Evans should be wearing yellow after the stage," added Gilbert, who sits in 29th position on the overall, 32 seconds down on the third-placed Australian. "I won't be able to take back the more than 30 seconds that separate us. Maybe five or six but not more."
BMC's Evans assessed the situation in a similar way. "Phil will be the man to beat on that finish," he wrote on his personal website. And while the possibility of taking the overall lead of course had its appeal, he insisted that it would only be a part of the bigger picture.
"At the moment, it would only be a psychological point made against the other favourites for the general classification," Evans told L'Equipe. "It wouldn't have a great impact on what is still to come, the Tour is still long."
And the Mûr-de-Bretagne could also be a road of redemption for another GC favourite, Alberto Contador, who already lost a lot of time against his rivals due to ill-positioning and bad luck. The Spaniard may want to try and take back a few seconds in the finale, which promises some spectacle.
"Logic dictates that Gilbert wins this stage, too," the Saxo Bank rider predicted. "It's up to me to find my place amongst the best." But the Spaniard being a marked man, it also means that the likes of the Schleck brothers, as well as the other GC favourites, will be up there with him. Fränk Schleck is also an experienced hilly Classics contender, and so is Andy. Add to that other highly motivated riders and Classics specialists such as Damiano Cunego, Alexandre Vinokourov and Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez ("I pinpointed this stage before the Tour start"), and today's finish is certain to prove exciting.
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