Analysis: Gilbert still banging on door of first win in rainbow jersey
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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Analysis: Gilbert still banging on door of first win in rainbow jersey

by Shane Stokes at 11:02 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Two more near misses for world champion

Philippe GilbertClose but not cigar. Philippe Gilbert’s frustrating wait to clock up his first victory as world road race champion continues, with the Belgian notching up two more close results in recent days.

Gilbert was practically unstoppable two years ago but has seen his win ratio drop significantly since then. After notching up eighteen victories in 2011, he took just three last year – although two stages in the Vuelta a España plus the world title is not to be sniffed at, of course – and is yet to reach the top step of the podium in 2013.

When he moved to the BMC Racing Team prior to the start of 2012, more was anticipated from him. His huge salary is a testament to that; at the time, it was reported in the Belgian press that he was likely to receive €2.5 million per year under the terms of his contract.

Gilbert’s most successful season also raised expectations of him, as did his riding in the years before that. He was a proven winner, and one of the most exciting riders in the sport.

It’s hard to know what has happened since then. He’s still a very strong competitor, but whether it's too much money, a lack of hunger or a slight drop in his form, he’s no longer the same dominant force that he was in the past.

Thus far this year he’s finished on the lower rungs of the podium nine times. Four of those are runner-up slots, and two came in the past three days.

On Sunday he finished second to Jurgen Vandewalle in the Belgian national time trial championships, just over a minute back. “My legs were good and this was more important,” he he said, playing down the near-miss. “Vandewalle was the best, but I am on the right spot.”

The suggestion that he is getting closer to the physical and mental condition that he needs to be in was reinforced by his ride yesterday on stage two of the Eneco Tour.

There, Gilbert picked up another second place. “It was perfect,” Gilbert said of Daniel Oss’ work to put him in the right place at the right time on the uphill finish to the line.

“I thought this would be my moment. I had to do a sprint of 200 meters uphill, which I normally can. But (Arnaud) Démare came pretty fast and I couldn't respond.”

Every rider has his day and Démare is certainly a strong competitor. That said, the Gilbert of 2011 would almost certainly have won. Such was his dominance then.

It’s clear that the BMC Racing Team rider is banging on the door, but also that time is gradually running out to notch up one or more wins in the rainbow jersey. The world road race championships take place in 46 days; Philippe Gilbert has got a month and a half to define how his period in that jersey will be remembered.


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