Philippe Gilbert and Omega Pharma: on the cusp of greatness?
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Philippe Gilbert and Omega Pharma: on the cusp of greatness?

by Jered Gruber at 1:45 AM EST   comments
Categories: Spring Classics, Track
 

Philippe Gilbert put together, in one go, the type of Spring Campaign that takes most riders years to assemble, and for many, is just not possible. Gilbert managed to race at the highest level from Milano-Sanremo all the way through Liege-Bastogne-Liege - and he's still not done. He's looking for more success this week at the Tour de Romandie. As a manager, it would be hard not to be pleased with a spring like Gilbert's, and Marc Sergeant is justifiably proud of his superstar. "Top ten in Sanremo and then one month later, 4th at Liege - not many riders can do that."

Two great Belgians, Eddy Merckx and Walter Godefroot, normally not known for standing ovations, were effusive in their praise of the Walloon.

'He is a rider like we knew in the old generations.' - Walter Godefroot

Merckx applauded Gilbert: "Philippe is a rider I like. He is now of the same value as Tom Boonen. He is 100% committed to his job. He's a rider with strong strength of character, but also enormous abilities. He can win everything, except perhaps Fleche Wallonne, as the Mur de Huy will remain an obstacle for him."

Merckx, like any good Belgian, is quick to point out the differences in Boonen and Gilbert. Both Boonen and Gilbert's season were very comparable through Paris-Roubaix. If anything, Boonen's was stronger, but his spring finished in the Roubaix Velodrome. Gilbert's, however, hit top gear as the racing headed toward the Ardennes. Merckx is of the opinion that Boonen should have taken his still great form to Amstel Gold.

'I do not mind having the second most complete rider in my team.' - Marc Sergeant

Walter Godefroot was even more complimentary: "Today, nobody does it. All riders are so specialized. Gilbert is able to race at the highest level over all terrains. He is there in all the finals. He is a rider like we knew in the old generations. He is difficult to classify, because he is even more complete than champions like Van Petegem, Museeuw, and Boonen. He is only 27 years old - his best years are coming."

When talking about complete riders though, it's hard not to think of one rider in particular, Fabian Cancellara. Sergeant is quick to tip his hat to Cancellara, but knows he's not doing too bad with Gilbert: "Cancellara is something more of a complete rider, but I do not mind having the second most complete rider in my team."

Gilbert's results are all the more impressive in this time of specialization and the quality of his opponents in this year's Spring Classics, but with just a little more experience and a stronger team around him, an already powerful spring could have been that much better. It's hard not to cast a critical eye at the Omega Pharma-Lotto team, a team that has become wholly dependent on the success of Philippe Gilbert. Over the past season and a half, the team has a relatively meager sum of ten wins - of those ten wins, Gilbert can lay claim to eight of them. His Omega Pharma-Lotto team is aware of Gilbert's future potential and wants to bolster the support around him for 2011 and beyond.

'The main priorities are a sprinter and a GC rider.' - Marc Sergeant

Both the team and Gilbert himself seem half a step away from huge success, and that fact is not lost on the team management. Marc Sergeant was happy with Gilbert's performances, but recognizes the necessity of strengthening his team around Gilbert: "On Sunday, a teammate was missing for Gilbert, a teammate for the final to 'ride in advance', as Contador did for Vinokourov. Therefore, we are looking for fresh blood. The main priorities are a sprinter and a GC rider."

A big time sprinter would take a lot of pressure off of Gilbert and the team in general to score those smaller, yet necessary early wins. It's never a good position to be in heading into the Ardennes Classics without a single win. An elite sprinter could ensure that the win column would be steadily growing as Gilbert's form grows quietly in the background. The addition of a GC rider would add necessary possibilities for the Grand Tours, but more importantly, would give Gilbert that teammate he so desperately needed at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Sergeant is not aiming low for his two hopes, and just imagining the vast change in dynamic within the team with their addition is invigorating: "Kreuziger and Greipel fit perfectly into our profile. But, however much I'd like to try, I cannot confirm that we can get a someone like Greipel. Kreuziger was willing to move to our team last year, but I also realize that we are not the only candidates."

Gilbert's Spring
Milano-Sanremo: 9th
Gent-Wevelgem: 3rd
Tour of Flanders: 3rd
Paris-Roubaix: pass
Brabantse Pijl: 5th
Amstel Gold: 1st
Fleche Wallonne: 6th
Liege-Bastogne-Liege: 4th

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