Gilbert on Sagan prior to Amstel Gold Race: ‘He is the favourite, there is no question about that”
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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Gilbert on Sagan prior to Amstel Gold Race: ‘He is the favourite, there is no question about that”

by Shane Stokes at 12:51 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Amstel Gold Race
 
Belgian rider motivated to clock up first victory since taking world title

Philippe GilbertWinless since taking the world road race championship last September, it would be fitting in some ways if Philippe Gilbert can break his duck in tomorrow’s Amstel Gold Race.

It’s not just that the BMC Racing Team rider has won the event twice before, triumphing in 2010 and 2011. The symbolism of a third victory would be in the fact that he took his world title on many of the same roads, with this year’s finish of the Amstel Gold Race being moved beyond the climb of the Cauberg and to the same location as his worlds victory.

What better way to christen his rainbow jersey than to do so at the precise location he earned it?

Gilbert has gone close in the seven months since his gold medal ride. In January he was third on stage three of the Santos Tour Down Under. In March he finished second on the penultimate stage of Paris-Nice, being bettered only by Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma Quick Step) in a big group sprint to the line.

Then, three days ago, he narrowly lost out to Peter Sagan in their Amstel warm-up event, the Brabantse Pijl.

He’s been banging on the door a long time and is hungry to finally hit the line ahead in his rainbow jersey.

Gilbert has structured his season around being in peak condition for the Ardennes Classics of the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He tweaked his programme recently due to a cold he picked up in Paris-Nice, opting to miss the Ronde van Vlaanderen and instead take on an unscheduled stage race.

He feels that has paid off. “I am feeling okay, actually,” he said, with some understatement. “I think I did a good choice to skip Flanders and to go to Pais Vasco and to ride hard in the climbs and make some big efforts.

“We can see this last Wednesday, this choice paid [off] already as I was second. It is not winning but I was close to the win and it does give me some confidence.”

Already fired up to perform well tomorrow, Gilbert makes clear that he also draws motivation from the location of the race. “It was very nice to come back in this area, especially after the race of the worlds. It is very special to see this. The line was still there, so it was a big moment,” he said.

Then, Gilbert attacked hard towards the top of the Cauberg, opened a decisive gap and then held on over the remaining 1.7 kilometres or so of flatter roads. He hit the line well clear, celebrating his biggest ever success.

Back on similar roads again, he knows there will be inevitable comparisons with the world championships, but also underlines that things are not as straightforward as that.

“The bunch is completely different. The goals are different,” he said. “I have not got the same motivation from the worlds for the Classics. Of course, you always want to win but it is always more important to win a world championship than a Classic.

“So I think it is different, you will see less people able to win this Sunday than in September last year. But the goal for us will be to try to win this race.”

His victories in the region have already proven that he is one of the riders most suited to the short, steep climbs in the area. Those characteristics and his good form mean that he is one of the tipped riders, but he’s quick to accept that the competitor who beat him in Brabantse Pilj, Peter Sagan, is a big threat.

“He is the favourite, there is no question about that,” he stated. “But like I said, we all come to win, every team comes to win. Every team tries to beat the favourite.

“This year this is Sagan. I am not sure if he can win…if he can win, this would be very nice for him as winning as the favourite is always something very special. But I hope we can beat him.”

Even accepting that Sagan is in very strong condition, BMC Racing Team directeur sportif John Lelangue is convinced that the BMC Racing Team has a good chance. That’s not just to do with Gilbert’s rising form, but also because of what he saw in Brabantse Pijl

“We are in a good situation with the right team. We had already this confidence that we were getting ready for Amstel, Fleche and Liege but having his result adds to that.

“It’s not only the second place of Philippe but also the fact that Greg [Van Avermaet] was on the offensive. He was still alone in the lead in the last kilometre and only Sagan was coming back with Philippe on the wheel. We see that we are on the [right] level. We see that we can do something with the two leaders that we have for the moment. We have the world champion on one side and Greg Van Avermaet on the other.”

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