Gilbert praised by Bartoli and Merckx in advance of Liège-Bastogne-Liège
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Gilbert praised by Bartoli and Merckx in advance of Liège-Bastogne-Liège

by Conal Andrews at 6:36 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège , Amstel Gold Race
 

Philippe Gilbert's status as one of the main favourites for Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège has been further underlined by the endorsement of two past winners of the event.

Italian Classic specialist Michele Bartoli and Eddy Merckx, widely recognised as the greatest rider ever in the sport, have both applauded his strength and character, and said that he can clock up wins in all of the Classics.

“Gilbert is one of those rare real riders still left in the peloton. He is racing with heart and soul, not like others who behave more like VIPS,” Bartoli told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Three years ago, I already said that Philippe would become who he became. It was something that was very plain to see. What I noticed is his mental maturity. Three years ago he had all the legs, but he pretty much raced without reflection.”

Bartoli won three out of the five Monuments, the biggest Classics. He took Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1997 and 1998, the Giro di Lombardia in 2002 and 2003, and the Tour of Flanders in 1996. In addition to that, he triumphed in the 1999 Flèche Wallonne and, three years later, in the Amstel Gold Race.

“Gilbert gave the impression of playing with his opponents,” he said, referring the Belgian’s own Amstel win last Sunday. “That happened to me sometimes. He can win all the Classics, even Paris-Roubaix. Before Sunday, he’s my number one. He has to be good to drop Valverde, but the Belgian seems in better shape than the Spaniard.

“His team will ensure that an escape is unlikely. And then it is up to him. I think he is even able to get ride of everyone on the Cote de Saint Nicolas.”

Merckx won the Amstel Gold race in 1973 and 1975, and triumphed in Liège a stunning five times in all. Like Bartoli, he is also clearly a fan of Gilbert as a rider and as a person.

“He is Tom Boonen’s equal [as a Classic specialist and winner],” he told the Gazet Van Antwerpen. “A rider to my heart, who lives 100 percent for his profession. A person of good character, too, with enormous possibilities. He can win all the Classics. Only Flèche Wallonne is difficult.”

Gilbert finished sixth in Flèche on Wednesday, being unable to match the very quickest riders on the final ascent of the Mur de Huy. He is a bigger rider than the pure climbers who tend to excel on the steep wall, but should fare better on the longer, more gradual climbs of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The increased distance of that race relative to Wednesday’s contest will also play in his favour, as will the motivation he will derive from competing so close to home.

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