Ahead of this weekend's Tour of Flanders, Marc Sargeant is happy with Philippe Gilbert's form. The Omega Pharma-Lotto leader took second on the second stage of De Panne today and is one of the favourites for the Belgian Classic.
Gilbert formed part of a twelve-man group 24 kilometres into the 188-kilometre stage from Zottegem to Sint Idesbald. However, with rain and brutal crosswinds wreaking havoc, the group was reduced to four riders by the stage finale. Gilbert, Sébastien Turgot (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Jens Mouris (Vacansoleil) were the only members of the original break to vie for stage honours.
"Philippe is good. He wanted to train today and if you stay with the other groups at the back you can run into trouble, get cold or lose a lot of time. So he took no risks and that showed today," Sargeant said.
Gilbert may have been using the stage to test his legs ahead of Flanders but there was no chance he was going to let the opportunity of winning the sprint slip through his fingers. Lotto is without a win this year and a victory here would have relieved some of the pressure that has been building on the team in recent weeks after a string of disappointing results.
"Maybe before the stage he was happy to get some miles in his legs, but if you're so close then of course you want to win. I don't think he's upset about not winning but he will be if he doesn't win on Sunday."
Gilbert is one of the favourites for Flanders and Sargeant believes that there could be two key sections to the race - the first few climbs and then the final climb of the Bosberg, situated 12 kilometres from the finish. However, while Sargeant named Gilbert, Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) as his favourites for the race, he was unsure whether double winner Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) could make it three in a row.
"They never let you go. You need the legs to do that. I'm not sure about him (Devolder) but it's tricky because I wasn't sure about him last year and he won. So you can't rule him out."
Earlier in the week Sargeant told Cyclingnews that the team was on the lookout for a sprinter for next season in a bid to relieve some of the pressure on Gilbert for wins. At today's finish he wouldn't name who he had in mind but he did rule out swooping for Australian Robbie McEwen, who rode for Lotto for several years before leaving for Katusha.
"It's early but let's say I have a few in my head. Cavendish is a little expensive," he laughed, "but there are lots of names.
"As for Robbie we let him go because he had the opportunity to have a huge contract with Katusha. He told me that this would be his last year and that he'd finish this year with the Worlds in his own country."
Asked if he was in the market for an up-and-coming sprinter or a proven winner, Sargeant remained tight-lipped. "We just want a fast one. Not too old, but just fast."
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