Philippe Gilbert’s (Lotto Soudal) spring had already been compromised by the self-imposed break he took during the cobbled Classics, but his hopes for the Ardennes have been further hampered by a recent training crash.
The veteran Belgian was training near his home in Nice last week when he crashed at high speed going downhill. He avoided serious injury and has been declared fit for Wednesday’s La Flèche Wallonne and Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but now has further question marks over his form.
"It was a stupid crash. I was training alone and on a descent, and the road had a big bump in it. They do that for when it’s raining to let the water drain in one direction, and there was one on the corner and I was really surprised to see this big bump and I crashed really heavily because I wasn’t expecting it," Gilbert said during a press conference on Tuesday.
"Due to the shock, I lost the handlebars. For a moment it was in the balance and I was hoping to stay upright but then I crashed. It was like 45km/h so quite fast, and I was sliding for about 10 or 12 metres on my left hand side. I left quite a lot of skin on the road there."
Gilbert travelled to Belgium on Monday ahead of the final two Ardennes Classics. After missing the Tour of Flanders earlier this month due to physical and mental fatigue accumulated after last year's knee injury, he missed Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, but wanted to return for what he described as ‘the two true Ardennes races’.
"It cost me some days and already didn’t have a lot of days, so the crash was quite annoying for me," he said.
"A crash like that is a big shock and takes a lot of energy out of the body. That’s why I’m being quite careful with the Ardennes because I could not do the training sessions I wished to do. I was still able to do a few long rides of more than six hours, but I could not do much intensity due to the pain."
Now 38, Gilbert revealed during the weekend that he plans to retire after the 2022 season.
"At some point, I have to stop," he said. "It will be 20 years of my career. You have to think that cycling is not the only thing in life. There is also my family. I have sacrificed a lot in my life and it's time to enjoy it."
Coming just three weeks after he announced his break, Gilbert was already in a race against time, but the training crash has further constricted his preparation and lowered his expectations. He was reluctant to consider himself a contender for Flèche or Liège, which rather dampened any excitement surrounding the 10-year anniversary of his famous treble of Ardennes victories.
"I’ve said it 50,000 times before, so it’s a bit the same story, but it was a very special 10 days. Great memories,” he said of 2011, preferring instead to look ahead.
"Unlike back then, this time I know I’m not going to be the favourite, that’s for sure,” he said.
"I’m taking the two races without pressure. I don’t really have my marks, so it’s hard to talk about precise ambitions. I want to do as well as possible, but there is no pressure. When you start like this you can surprise even yourself."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.