Can Philippe Gilbert win a Grand Tour?
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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Can Philippe Gilbert win a Grand Tour?

by Jered Gruber at 5:57 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
Bernard Hinault and Lucien Van Impe weigh in on the possibility

When a rider begins to dominate the one day races, and shows an ability to get over climbs in other races, as in the case previously with Fabian Cancellara, it's hard not to wonder if a great like Cancellara could be a threat in a three week race. Cancellara has since, more or less, dismissed that possibility, but another rider, on the cusp on one day domination and certainly capable uphill, is just entering the crucible of Grand Tour possibilities: Philippe Gilbert.

Recently, the Walloon spoke with La Derniere Heure, and admitted that he didn't know how much further he could go, because he did not know his limits. Gilbert said, "I am stronger each year."

The evolution from Classics standout to three week threat would be a dramatic one, but it's something that some of the sport's greats consider at least a distant possibility.

Five time Tour de France champion, Bernhard Hinault, speaking with Le Derniere Heure, certainly doesn't rule out Gilbert's chances, but doesn't think he can do battle with the pure climbers, like Contador or Schleck. It will take an incredible three week effort along with a fortuitous breakaway that would put Gilbert in the realm of Tour de France victory according to the Badger.

"Gilbert has so far made a nice progression. Every year, he has taken another step toward becoming the champion he is today. Compared to the Tour though, there is clearly work to be done. With his qualities, he can win a stage, or several stages. Now, for the final classification, and faced with a Contador or Schleck, it will be much more difficult, especially in the high mountains, which might be too hard for him to face the real climbers. If he manages to slip into a breakaway that takes ten minutes early, he will be very hard to get back."

Meanwhile, Lucien Van Impe, the last Belgian winner of a Grand Tour, six-time Maillot Pois winner, and current director of the Verandas Willems team, believes that Grand Tour success is possible - just not at the Tour de France.

"There is nothing bigger than the Tour de France - all the specialists and all of their teams are the top of their condition for three weeks. I do not think Gilbert's chances in this race are that great. However, the Vuelta would suit him better. This Grand Tour is different from the one in July. It is more accessible, because it is at the end of the season, and many riders are concentrated on the World Championships."

Interestingly, Van Impe draws a parallel between Gilbert and a French legend, Laurent Jalabert. Jalabert started his career as a sprinter, but developed into a Classics specialist, climber, and even a Grand Tour winner. He won the Vuelta in 1995 over Abraham Olano and Johan Bruyneel - the sort of victory that Van Impe sees as a distinct possibility for Gilbert.

"To me, Gilbert is a much stronger Jalabert. Further proof that he can win a three-week race like the Vuelta a Espana. If he prepares specifically and loses a little weight for the high mountains - it can be done."

Racing has certainly changed a fair bit over the past 15 years, but the possibility of the Amstel Gold and Giro di Lombardia winner taking a Grand Tour win at some point in his career doesn't seem to be out of the question. The big question is at what cost would he pursue that goal if it were in fact a goal? With Gilbert's continual improvements, the chance at victory in all of the Monuments is a reality, and if he can achieve that, a place in the pantheon of the legends of cycling is assured.

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