Sergeant pleased with Gilbert's progression, Worlds next
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sergeant pleased with Gilbert's progression, Worlds next

by Samuel Morrison at 10:11 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Vuelta a España, World Championships

Belgian Philippe Gilbert missed the chance to win his home race, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Sunday. However, Omega Pharma-Lotto's team manger, Marc Sergeant, is pleased with Gilbert's progression and said that the World Championships is the next major goal.

Sergeant knows his rider well. Their relationship goes further back than team Omega Pharma, but to the days when Gilbert was trying to make the junior national team. Sergeant was the sports director and was impressed with what he saw in the boy from Wallonia.

"At every race he would come up to me and say 'Hello, I am Philippe Gilbert.' And he would always try to speak in Flemish, even if you replied in French. That was really special because it was not normal."

Gilbert made the team and progressed to the professional ranks, but he did not join Sergeant's Lotto-Domo team. Instead, at the 20, he turned professional with French team Française des Jeux.

France, after being rocked by the 1998 Festina doping scandal, was a perfect place for a young rider to develop. The teams put less pressure on their riders to steer them away from doping, even if that meant fewer wins.

"He made the decision for himself, he didn't want the pressure of a Belgian team. It is really difficult to start in a Belgian team because everyone asks for results, even if it is not a big result.

"At a certain point, he decided if 'I want to win a Classic maybe I need to change teams' because the French teams they were really focused on the Tour and French races.

"I always stayed in touch with him. Often he would get a ride back home from us when our team did a race in France. Or he would have a flight, but needed to have his bike and bags taken back. We would always put them in the truck for him. So, we had a good relationship for many years.

"I knew way before when his contracted ended [with Française des Jeux] so that I started speaking with him to let him know we wanted him in the team if he wanted to change. It took quite a long time because he wanted to know everything. We talked about his team-mates, if he was going to do the tour, all of these things. He was not just concerned with how much we would pay him."

Sergeant's persistence paid off and he signed Gilbert ahead of last year's season. Gilbert was one of the team's most successful riders last year with six wins, including a magical winning streak: Coppa Sabatini, Paris-Tours, Giro del Piemonte and the Giro di Lombardia.

This year, Gilbert placed top ten in every race from Milano-Sanremo to Liège-Bastogne-Liège, including winning Amstel Gold and placing third in Ronde van Vlaanderen.

He is racing the Tour de Romandie this week, but afterwards will enjoy a well-earned break and then prepare to win the World Championships. Sergeant said that Gilbert will skip the Tour de France and race the three-week Vuelta a España as preparation. The plan is to complete the race through Madrid and then head immediately to Australia, where the World Championships takes place two weeks later in Geelong.


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