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Milan-San Remo: Gilbert hones in on 'missing' Monument from palmarès

Lotto Soudal’s Philippe Gilbert and John Degenkolb meet the press ahead of the 2020 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Lotto Soudal’s Philippe Gilbert and John Degenkolb meet the press ahead of the 2020 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Lotto Soudal's Philippe Gilbert will try to win the final fifth Monument that is still missing from his considerable palmarès when he lines up at Milan-San Remo on August 8. The Belgian has won Liėge-Bastogne-Liège, the Tour of Flanders and Il Lombardia – the latter twice – and last year added Paris-Roubaix, but San Remo has repeatedly eluded him, with his best finish at the Italian one-day race being third, which he achieved in both 2008 and 2011.

"Of course I want to win, but my season is more than just San Remo," Gilbert said in a video press conference on Tuesday, according to Het Nieuwsblad. "I'm not going to bet my life on that race; it's not an obsession. If I don't succeed, I will survive. Winning San Remo is not easy anyway. It's a race with few opportunities."

On whether the rescheduled calendar that has seen the race move from its usual March slot to August will change anything, the 37-year-old said: "I'm not afraid of the August heat, but I know from experience that the wind blows much stronger in late summer.

"I'll have to be super good from the beginning to the end of the season," Gilbert added. "My first goal is Milan-San Remo, and so it can't be my first race. That's why I'll ride Strade Bianche on August 1 and Milano-Torino on August 5."

Meanwhile, the 2015 winner of Milan-San Remo – Gilbert's new Lotto Soudal teammate John Degenkolb, with both riders having joined the Belgian WorldTour outfit for 2020 – will not take to the start line of La Classicissima in Milan on August 8.

Degenkolb said on Tuesday that while San Remo is a special race for him, he's focusing on goals later in the season, including the 'spring' Classics, such as the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, which will take place in October.

"Emotionally, I would have liked to be going to San Remo, but this is the price I have to pay if I want to be good for the rest of the season," he said, according to Het Laatste Nieuws.

Instead, Degenkolb will ride the Tour de Pologne (August 5-9) and the Tour de Wallonnie (August 16-19), and will then, like Gilbert, feature in the eight-rider Lotto Soudal squad for the Tour de France, which is set to run from August 29-September 20. With Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan also on the team – Ewan won three stages on his Tour debut in 2019 – Degenkolb will be working in the lead-out train for Ewan on the flatter stages and saving his own fast finish for the hillier stages.

"I have my place in the lead-out, but I'll most likely not be the last man for Caleb," explained Degenkolb. "At the same time, I noticed in the spring that I climb better than ever before, and that gives me confidence for the more difficult stages. The first focus is on helping Caleb, but I hope I can also create opportunities for myself."