The Ardennes classics may be the perennial centrepiece of Philippe Gilbert’s (BMC) spring campaign, but the Belgian champion will again look to be in contention at Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders in 2012.
Now among the galacticos at BMC’s expensively-assembled classics squad, Gilbert will be flanked by Thor Hushovd and Alessandro Ballan in the opening two monuments of the season. Gilbert went on the offensive in each race last season, but in spite of his sparkling form, he ultimately fell short on each occasion.
Speaking at the BMC training camp in Denia, Gilbert admitted that the route of Milan-San Remo has never quite proved difficult enough to eliminate the sprinters during his career. In 2007, he led over the Poggio with Riccardo Riccò, but the pair were swallowed up on the drop into San Remo.
“Cycling is different now with big teams and it’s difficult to make the difference,” Gilbert said, pointing out that Gabriele Colombo’s surprise 1996 win was one of the last occasions when the sprinters did not dominate proceedings. Indeed, even in 2011’s remarkably open race, it was the last sprinter standing, Matt Goss, who took victory on the Lungomare Italo Calvino.
“There was already a big selection with the crashes on the descent of the Manie. I was thinking that all the sprinters were not there, but there was one and he won,” Gilbert recalled.
Gilbert led the Tour of Flanders over the final climb of the Bosberg last season, but was again unable to get enough purchase on his acceleration. 2012 sees De Ronde tackle a new course, where the Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont will be the final obstacles. Although well familiar with the roads, Gilbert will not reconnoitre the new finale in full until the week before the race.
“I know the circuit but I don’t need to go there ten times to see the road,” he said. “I also know that in Belgium that if I go tomorrow to see the circuit it will be completely different to the week of Flanders. It’s important to go in the last moment on the circuit to see the roads.”
And with three ascents of the Paterberg and the Kwaremont facing the peloton, is the new course better-suited to Gilbert? The Belgian certainly anticipates a more rigorous selection in the finale.
“It will be harder,” he said. “I think it will be maybe five, six or seven riders there with a chance to win."
While Gilbert harbours long-term the ambition of inscribing all five monuments on his palmares, he confirmed that he will again forgo Paris-Roubaix in 2012, explaining that the race does not tally with his preparation for the Ardennes Classics.