Gilbert to make Milan-San Remo prime classics target in 2014

Philippe Gilbert (BMC) will make the revamped Milan-San Remo the focal point of his 2014 spring campaign, as he believes the altered parcours will eliminate the pure sprinters from contention.

Race organisers RCS Sport last month announced that the stiff climb of Pompeiana, with a maximum gradient of 14%, will now feature in the finale of Milan-San Remo, between the Cipressa and the final ascent, the Poggio.

“I was happy to see that San Remo is better for me and I will focus on this,” Gilbert told reporters on Friday. “San Remo is a race I love and I would love to win. I’ve been on the podium a few times and I’m still convinced I can win this and now even more.”

Even ahead of this year’s race, 2009 winner Mark Cavendish said that the insertion of the early climb of Le Manie had severely limited the sprinters’ chances of winning on the Lungomare Italo Calvino. While Le Manie has now been removed from the course, Gilbert reckons that the addition of Pompeiana makes the race even harder for the fast men and greatly improved his own prospects.

“The riders make the race, but if we climb that climb with real climbing speed, I don’t see any sprinters – apart from Sagan of course – being able to follow,” Gilbert said. “Sagan is the exception, because he can climb, sprint and even TT, but the other sprinters, I don’t see a chance for them.”

Indeed, so enamoured is Gilbert by the Milan-San Remo course that he is planning to hit peak condition in late March rather than during the Ardennes classics in late April. “I’ve won all of the Ardennes and I haven’t won San Remo. For me the big goal is to be 100 percent of my capacity on the start of San Remo,” he said.

Gilbert was speaking at BMC’s unusually early 2014 team presentation in Grenchen, Switzerland. Even though the 2013 campaign is still not quite over – the Chrono des Nations closes the European season on Sunday – Gilbert explained the rational behind the unusual timing.

“It’s better to take this time during a rest period than in a training period. Last year, we spent three days doing this before going to Australia [for the Tour Down Under], so in the end, I lost six days [due to travel] and that’s a big loss in training for January,” said Gilbert, who hinted he was unlikely to return to the Tour Down Under in 2014.

“It’s always been nice, but for me it’s harder and harder to fight the jet lag and the temperature differences. When I was younger it was easier.”

Unclear also is Gilbert’s participation in the Tour de France, where he would be required to ride in support of Tejay van Garderen. “I can work for someone else when he is able to win. When he can do something, I can sacrifice myself, but not for nothing,” Gilbert said.

During this year’s race, Gilbert had expressed mild frustration at the team’s failure to support him on the opening stages in Corsica, although a week later, it was announced that he had penned a two-year extension to his contract with BMC.

Immediately after the Tour, BMC parted company with team manager John Lelangue, and he has since been replaced by the experienced Valerio Piva, who arrives at the team after a successful two-year stint with Katusha.

“It’s a new mentality for the team. It’s still the same sponsor and the same name but we can feel it’s a different way to feel cycling and to work,” Gilbert said. “There’s a lot of change, a lot of new people coming and we can feel that they are all motivated to work and do this job.

“I think everyone will show he is professional. When this comes from the staff and the direction, it goes automatically to the riders. I guess and I hope it will help us.”

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