The legends agree: the sky is the limit for Philippe Gilbert
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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The legends agree: the sky is the limit for Philippe Gilbert

by Jered Gruber at 8:34 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Walter Godefroot, Johan Museeuw, and Sean Kelly all agree: Gilbert can win pretty much everything

Following a second straight dazzling end of the season run for Philippe Gilbert, not just the media and fans are agape at the still only 28 year old star - even the sport's legends are raving about the possibilities for the Walloon in an article in La Derniere Heure.

Belgian Classics great, Johan Museeuw, the Lion of Flanders, has been greatly impressed by his countryman.

"This success in Lombardia perfectly describes Philippe Gilbert, both physically and mentally. He went just wide at Worlds, a race he had prepared for months for. Instead of lamenting it though, he moved on. It has been years since I've seen someone do what he did."

As a Belgian, Museeuw can't resist hoping that Belgium's other superstar will focus his efforts on the nation's biggest race, the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Museeuw feels that an in-form Gilbert will be untouchable by everyone, even Boonen and Cancellara.

"I hope that by 2011, he will focus on the Tour of Flanders. I do not see anyone that can resist him on the Muur van Geraardbsbergen or the Bosberg - not Boonen, not even Cancellara."

Another Belgian Classics legend and former Telekom manager, Walter Godefroot, also lauded the rider from near Liege, even bringing up the biggest name in cyclist history, Eddy Merckx.

"On Saturday, he reminded me a bit of Merckx, although he has never won in the high mountains. He has become a great champion. He takes responsibility, motivates his teammates. He has become more mature in the race, he attacks where you least expect it. Cancellara is the only other current rider capable of winning all the Classics."

Moving out of Belgium and heading northward, La Derniere Heure talked to another Classics man, Sean Kelly. Kelly is another veteran who is not quick to compliment, but like the other legends, Gilbert's riding has moved him to high words.

"He is the best Classics rider of the moment. Above all, he is comprehensive, capable of winning in Flanders and the Ardennes. He is there, and he alone, from the beginning to the end of the season. He is not a rider who stays in the wheels either, he does not hide, ever."

King Kelly has noticed, in particular, the slow, steady rise of Philippe Gilbert. Early on, Gilbert took big wins at Het Volk, but didn't really factor in the sport's biggest Classics.

"Certainly, he has been good for several years. It took him a while to cross the threshold to move past the 200-220 kilometer barrier. For two or three years, he has proved that he is very much at a higher level now."

Kelly does not hold that against Gilbert though, in fact, he sees it as a positive development that he slowly came to the incredible level he now occupies.

"When you win Classics very early, like Boonen for example, it's hard to handle."

When the Irishman says this year's winner of the Amstel Gold Race and the Giro di Lombardia can win everything, he means everything - including the Hell of the North.

"It will not stop here. He can win all the Classics, especially since he is quite quick. He will always fare well in a small group, even if later he isn't quite so fast. When I see how he goes at the Tour of Flanders, I see no problem with him winning Paris-Roubaix within two years."

The notion that Gilbert could contend in the Grand Tours is a little harder for most everyone, including Kelly, to grasp. While he doesn't write it off entirely, the winner of seven editions of Paris-Nice feels that Gilbert's future should run through the Race to the Sun if he really feels he has a chance in the Grand Tours.

"There I disagree. Cycling has changed. It's harder now, more specialized. If he loses weight, he will lose his power and everything that makes him strong in the Classics. However, he might get there, but he must first pass through Paris-Nice."


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