Philippe Gilbert: The world champion speaks after his biggest career success
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Friday, October 5, 2012

Philippe Gilbert: The world champion speaks after his biggest career success

by VeloNation Press at 4:49 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, World Championships
New rainbow jersey meets the press

Philippe GilbertIt was, for many months, the toughest year of his career. Handed a multi-million Euro contract last winter when he moved to the BMC Racing Team, Philippe Gilbert began the season with a huge weight of expectation on his shoulders. He was one of the most expensive riders in the sport, he dominated last season, and was the reigning UCI WorldTour champion.

He even suggested prior to the season that he’d be able to step up a level but, instead, his engine was spluttering rather than firing on all cylinders. Gilbert was short of form for much of the year and while he won from February to September in 2011, he didn’t top the podium this time round until August 26th. Before then, there were some near misses but also many days where he simply didn’t look like the same rider as he had been.

The Vuelta a España turned things round, with victories into Barcelona on stage nine and La Lastrilla on stage 19 putting him back on track. His season was saved by those two performances; it then jumped to a much more notable level again at the world road race championships.

There, Gilbert launched an unanswerable attack on the final ascent of the Cauberg, soloing to the biggest victory of his career and in that moment, justifying his huge wages.

The Belgian spoke to the press recently, reacting to the win, talking about how things would be going forward and stressing the importance of remaining focussed. Gilbert said he was determined to be a successful world champion, and that he hoped to sidestep to so-called curse of the rainbow jersey through working hard and not allowing himself to be side-tracked by off-bike demands.

“It is easy to say no. I am not a star, I am a cyclist,” he said. “I don’t think BMC expect me to go on TV shows. They expect me to be good on the bike. I know to be good on the bike you have to train, to rest, and to be fresh mentally.”

Gilbert had hoped to win the Il Lombardia Classic in the rainbow jersey, becoming only the eighth rider in history to do so. Instead, he crashed out of the race, coming a cropper on the descent of the Muro di Sormano.

It wasn’t the glorious end to the season he had hoped for, but he’ll have many opportunities next season to take the Maillot Arc en Ciel across the line first. He plans to seize those chances whenever and wherever he can.

Q: Will this jersey change your life?

Philippe Gilbert: I don’t think so. Life cannot change with sport. It is just nice to have this title because I was fighting for it for years. I am happy and I think I will try to be at the level of this jersey for the next month [sic – should be ‘year’]. I hope to show it in the nice big races of the calendar, like it has always been my goal in the great Classics. I hope to be there at the level.

Q: You didn’t feel good before Milan San Remo. What has changed and how do you feel right now, as compared to six months ago?

PG: At that moment, I had some problems. I was not in my best shape. I was trying to find first what I had and to find a solution to get to my normal level. It was not my best situation of the season.

But I never panicked, I always had the confidence of my team. Now this makes the difference. I took the time I needed to come back. It was the only way to work professionally. It is what we did, and now I am finally at my level. At the Tour I was already at a normal level, and after the Tour at a very good level.

Q: Have you realised what happened in Valkenburg [winning the worlds – ed.]?

PG: I think the difference will just be more people will watch me and follow me, maybe. I saw my website, my Twitter account, Facebook account…there are a lot more new friends coming. That is the first big difference. I think also in the next press point everything I will say will maybe be taken more importantly by the press. I will have to be very careful with what I say. But I think I have some experience.

I think that is the only difference. I was already one of the best riders so I think everybody was watching me tactically before the race and this will not change. Maybe they will see me easier when I go in the breakaway.

Q: On Twitter you said thanks to my real fans…

PG: Yes, because this year was…I had bad moments with my condition and stuff. It is at those moments you see the real important people around you, and directly a lot less than normal. That is why I was giving thanks to them.

Q: Everything is okay with Belgian press?

PG: I will not forget what some of them did this year. But it is experience.

Philippe GilbertQ: You attacked the final time on the Cauberg – how planned was the final move?

PG: Like we said – we had two chances, it was easy for us. We had me to attack on the climb, and Tom to sprint. We were the only team to have this opportunity. Some teams had a sprinter, some teams had a guy for the attack, but they never had two chances like Belgium. That was the big difference, we played on this in the final. We always stayed calm.

There were a lot of team-mates there in the last lap. That is why I was not working with the guys [when attacks went earlier – ed.] because it was putting the team in a bad situation, compared to staying together…you are always stronger when you are together.

The plan was to go on the last climb with we hope eight guys [behind] but we were only six, but it was good also. We said we would try to stay in one line, then we would see if a guy like Rodriguez I would just follow him and I would see how the legs are. If I was not feeling good, I would just wait there for Tom would come back. But nobody could follow when Moser – I think - and Leukemans were pulling, so the work was done already. I had just to go for two kilometres.

Q: How important was Leukemans?

PG: I think Leukemans is maybe the rider most similar to my capacities when we go on short and steep climbs. Maybe he is the second strongest guy to me. I think we are the two best guys in these kind of efforts. So it was a big luxury to have a guy like that with me.

Q: What will your programme be like next year?

PG: I don’t know yet. For sure I go for the Ardennes, but I don’t know if I go for Flanders or another race. My goal is the Ardennes, that is the priority.

Q: Do you think there will be even more pressure on you now?

PG: Well, I always give my maximum on the bike. When you give the maximum, then you cannot have any regrets. Then you win or you don’t win, but at least you give everything, you try everything. I think it is my mentality and I think it is the best way.

Q: Did having that criticism help you to fight, to take the stages in the Vuelta?

PG: No, because I am not riding to give an answer. I am riding for myself, my team, my sponsors and my family. I am happy if they are happy. It is always good. But first of all it is for me and how I feel myself.

Q: It could be a very busy off-season for you as a world champion…

PG: It is easy to say no. I am not a star, I am a cyclist. I don’t think BMC expect me to go on TV shows. They expect me to be good on the bike. I know to be good on the bike you have to train, to rest, and to be fresh mentally. If you do a long and hard winter, then for sure you are not ready for the next season. I know how to manage my winter.

Q: Do you think that with the rainbow jersey that you will get recognition as a sportsman?

PG: The thing with cycling is that everybody can go on the bike. You just need the bike, a pair of shoes and a jersey, then you go where you want. I think a lot of people can do like us, think they are doing like us and this is the big point for cycling. Everybody can do it, like running. It is not like F1.

Q: Do you find it easy to turn down interviews? After 2011 and your great season, you had a lot of requests…

PG: I think the important thing is for sure to give some interviews and things like this, but you have to do it well, not ten times. After you say some wrong things because maybe you are bored by this, you are not focussed, and you are not concentrating. Then if a bad question comes you are not ready or you are nervous. So I think you have got to do less contact, but good contact.

Philippe GilbertQ: I don’t know how much you like that jersey… are you a guy who will sleep in it?

[Laughs] I won’t sleep in the jersey, but training…like I did with the Belgium jersey, I was training every day with it. When you are proud of this, it is normal.

Q: At 400 metres from the finish you made a gesture. What went through your mind between there and the finish?

PG: I knew my wife and son were there on the left between 100 to go and the finish line. I was searching for them all the race, but I never found them. I saw three Belgian flags there and I was thinking maybe they were there. So I was watching but we passed every time between fifty and sixth kilometres per hour, so I never found them. That is why I was watching to the left when I knew I would win. I said maybe I would see them, but I didn’t see them…there were too many people. That is what I was searching for.

Q: Of all the compliments that came in, which were the ones that stood out?

PG: the thing is, the are all coming in and it is hard to remember everything. But I know president McQuaid was very happy for me. He knew I was fighting a lot for this jersey…I was motivated and trying for years. I finally got it, so he was happy for me. I think I will also be a nice image for cycling – I hope so.

Q: The world championship is one day, but it is such a big win…

PG: Yes…I was training with guys from F1 and sports like this. They don’t understand this in cycling. I won the WorldTour in 2011, and maybe this is the world championships for the other sports. But [in cycling] you get the jersey in a race of six hours. It is very strange to understand when you are not from cycling, but it is like this.

Q: Do you realise the rainbow jersey from the worlds is much more important than the Olympics…

PG: Yes, because the Olympics has a lot of reglements [rules]. You cannot use the rings and so on. You are Olympic champion, but it is for all the sports, it is not only for cycling. You need respect for this sign.

Q: Do you believe in the curse of rainbow jersey?

I hope not. I don’t believe in it…I hope not. But I think this is also because the world champion is demanded everywhere. When you are not serious in the winter, then you have a bad season. Maybe that is why the rainbow jersey can have problems.


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