Tour de France 2011: A first week tailor made for Philippe Gilbert?
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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tour de France 2011: A first week tailor made for Philippe Gilbert?

by Jered Gruber at 5:48 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
Classics specialist could return to the Tour de France for the first time in two years next July

While Philippe Gilbert is just starting a hard-earned postseason rest, speculation is already brewing about his potential start in next year's Tour de France.

Omega Pharma-Lotto has already made it known that they hope to field their three all-stars next July: Philippe Gilbert, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, and Andre Greipel, but there's a long way between now and then, and Gilbert has not shown himself to be particularly fond of the Tour de France in recent years. The Classics specialist hasn't participated in the Grand Boucle in two years.

However, a number of occurrences seem to hearken a change in plans for Gilbert in 2011.

Speaking with La Derniere Heure, Omega Pharma boss, Marc Sergeant, feels that next year's Tour de France could be the perfect time for the French speaking Belgian to return to the sport's biggest stage, especially considering what could be a World Championships course in Copenhagen that will very much not favor the Amstel Gold and Giro di Lombardia winner.

"Philippe thought about the possibility already, because the Copenhagen Worlds course is apparently too easy. His sentiment will likely be further strengthened when he discover all the possibilities [that the 2011 Tour de France] could afford him. With that said, it's premature to talk about."

Of course, this time last year, the verdict was nearly unanimous on the Geelong Worlds course - it would come down to a big bunch sprint a la Zolder. A lot changed from the winter to the actual running of the race in October, but still, the final stage of the Tour of Denmark took in the Worlds course, and it looks fairly likely that it will be selective, but not nearly enough to favor a rider like Philippe Gilbert.

Gilbert's first professional manager at Francaise des Jeux, Marc Madiot, feels that the first week of racing in France next July has his former protege's name written all over it.

"If I were to define the Mont des Alouettes (Stage 1), I'd say it's a bump for Gilbert. If all goes well, he can spend eight days in yellow, as the Mur de Bretagne, on the fourth day, is really perfect for him. Ditto for the arrival in Lisieux (Stage 6) and also in Super-Besse (Stage 8), as well as Saint-Flour (Stage 9). If I were him, I would think it worth the effort to spend a fortnight at the Tour de France and win two stages."

The lack of a Prologue should indeed favor the recent winner of the Giro del Piemonte and the Giro di Lombardia for the second year in a row. Instead of a prologue on the first day, Gilbert will get a finish made in heaven for his capacities. LeTour.fr describes Gilbert perfectly: "This stage is without a doubt intended more for puncheurs (strong riders with explosive speed, which they use on short, but steep gradients with sudden attacks)." A Gilbert on top form would likely find success on the Mont des Alouettes, and following that, the question would be - how long could he hold on to yellow?

Stage Two could be a significant speed bump in the possibility that Marc Madiot mentions - a week in yellow. The second day is a flat team time trial around Les Essarts. Omega Pharma-Lotto will have a powerful contingent looking to support the overall prospects of their general classification hope, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, but it looks unlikely that they'll be able to go toe to toe with the likes of Team Sky or Garmin-Cervelo, at least on paper.

If the expected were to happen, Gilbert would get a second chance on Stage 4 on the tough ascent of the Mur de Bretagne, a finish that he has nabbed 2nd in before, behind only Alejandro Valverde.

After that, a few tough, but reasonable days will follow before hitting the first serious uphill gradients at the end of the first week. Consider that Gilbert recently posited the idea that he could consider shooting for Grand Tour glory in the future, these first minor slopes would seem to be no worry for his capabilities.

Of course, this is all only idle speculation, but Madiot describes a reasonable first week. If things go right for Gilbert, two stage wins and an extended stay in the Maillot Jaune would be more than reasonable.

Without question, the route over the first week looks like it should favor Gilbert, but the Walloon refuses to be drawn into commitments for July in October.

"I will analyze all this in peace, but I do not even want to think about it right now, first: rest."

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