World champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) indicated that he was up for a tilt at the general classification of the Tour Down Under on Tuesday, fighting for bonus seconds en route to the finish of stage 1 in Lobethal.
Keeping the rainbow jersey out of trouble in the opening WorldTour event of the season is a clear goal for BMC, but just whether or not he would be a contender come this weekend has been a lingering question for most at the Australian race.
It was on the third sprint point of the day at the 118.5km mark when the Orica GreenEdge team made a move off the front of the bunch designed to net two-time winner Simon Gerrans valuable bonus seconds. Sensing danger, Gilbert surged ahead to ensure he took the three seconds on offer for the first man across the sprint point. Gerrans was third.
The display marks a complete 180 degree turn for Gilbert, who struggled early on in 2012 before building towards his world championship victory in Valkenburg.
"It's a completely different situation," he admitted in Lobethal. "I take more pleasure like this. And it's easy also."
Whether he believes he is a true challenger for the overall win later this week was not something Gilbert was willing to commit to but he suggested that more will be known following Wednesday's stage where the Corkscrew climb is poised to deliver an initial selection of contenders.
"It's hard to say after today," the Belgian said. "We'll see tomorrow evening after the climb and this climb will decide the race."
Click on the video below for the full Philippe Gilbert interview.
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