Is Ballan BMC's best hope at Strade Bianche?

Despite the high expectation on BMC Racing Team's all-star line-up for Saturday's Strade Bianchi, the outfit's star signing and defending champion Philippe Gilbert is nonchalant about his own chances.

Gilbert's will be well supported in the form of teammates George Hincapie in his first European race of the year, Alessandro Ballan and Greg Van Avermaet as well as Tour de France winner Cadel Evans.

The testing 190km race route starts in Giaole in Chianti and ends in the spectacular Piazza del Campo in the centre of Siena that hosts the annual Palio horse race. There are eight hilly sections of dirt roads for a total of 57.2km of racing on the Strade Bianche of Tuscany. The final sections of dirt roads usually split the peloton before the climb to the centre of Siena and the downhill sprint to the finish.

Gilbert said he is feeling no pressure as the defending champion. "I will start this race with motivation because it's a nice race," the Belgian national champion said.

"My feeling was not great last weekend like last year at the same moment. But there's still no stress for me. The season is long and my goals will come later."

On the opening classics weekend of the 2012 season, Gilbert posted 31st in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad following from his 15th place overall at the Tour du Haut Var.

BMC Racing Team Assistant Director Fabio Baldato said the team is anxious to perform well on Saturday.

"I know Alessandro [Ballan - runner-up in both 2011 and 2008] is especially in good shape and motivated," he said.

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