Philippe Gilbert hopes to continue his repeat victory habits at Amstel Gold
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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Philippe Gilbert hopes to continue his repeat victory habits at Amstel Gold

by Jered Gruber at 4:50 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Walloon has a history of repeat wins: Paris-Tours, Giro di Lombardia, Giro del Piemonte.

Defending Amstel Gold Race champion, Philippe Gilbert, heads into Sunday's Limburg romp as the big favorite after a strong spring highlighted by yet another win on Wednesday at the Fleche Brabanconne/Brabantse Pijl.

For Gilbert, the race is on familiar roads, much more familiar than those of Flanders.

"I come from Remouchamps [at the base of La Redoute], which is only 80 kilometers from Valkenburg, thus it's closer to the finish of the Amstel Gold Race than the Tour of Flanders," said Gilbert to Het Nieuwsblad. "Previously, as a young racer, I rode in that direction often for my long workouts, especially in the winter, because it's always a few degrees warmer there than in the Ardennes."

Speaking of training as a youth and his upbringing in the Ardennes, Gilbert is a lover of nature, even getting his diploma in horticulture.

"That passion has remained. I really love nature, and I love being outside. In training, I like to pick my way along quiet tracks, if possible in the forest, far from people and houses."

One has to wonder, why a lover of quiet roads and nature would ever settle in Monaco then. Gilbert is quick to answer.

"The contradiction is only on the surface. I only have to sit on my bike for a few minutes, and then there is no trace to be found of all of the bustle of Monaco and the Riviera. My love for nature does not mean that I don't love to live in a city. For a rider, it's perfect, because it's everything you need in one spot. For example, I need to mind my diet as an athlete, or whatever. I love having everything, so to speak, around the corner."

Back to the matter at hand though - this weekend's Amstel Gold Race. The 28 year old will once again toe a start line as the defending champion, something he has grown accustomed to in recent years.

"I think it's fun to wear number one at the start of the Amstel Gold Race. It's not the first time it's happened to me. Think of Paris-Tours, the Giro del Piemonte, and the Giro di Lombardia. I won those both twice in a row. You see, it can happen, even if you're the defending champion, and everyone is watching you."

Everyone will certainly be watching Gilbert, especially after his seemingly effortless performance at the Brabantse Pijl. Some have been quick to liken Gilbert's day to Cancellara's E3 rampage. Gilbert doesn't agree.

"You cannot compare my performance on Wednsday to Cancellara at the E3 Prijs. Under duress, etc, the Swiss rode eighty kilometers solo. I rode defensively at Brabantse Pijl. As planned, I did not want to expend too much energy. I did not attack; I only made the jump to Leukemans. How long did I ride solo? Maybe six hundred meters. It didn't cost me much energy."

Despite his contention that he didn't use much energy or go very deep, it was hard not to notice the ease with which Gilbert won, or the look that he had just finished a simple training ride. His composure, the look of simplicity, it was alarming.

Gilbert shrugs. "In the last three kilometers, I didn't pull, so we didn't go very fast. I got a chance to recover. Come, let us be honest - the Fleche Brabanconne is a very nice race, but it is no classic - it's not a Monument of 250 kilometers or more. Of the men from the Tour of the Basque Country, purveyor of the pack in the Amstel Gold Race, only Freire, Luis Leon Sanchez, and a few more were present. Sunday, we'll have a very different field at the start. That's not to say that I can't do well."

With so much focus on how to beat Gilbert, the question becomes - what would you do if you were trying to contain Gilbert?

"If I were in a different team, I would try to isolate Gilbert. That's how I would play it."

Isolation seems a real possibility considering his Omega Pharma-Lotto team's lackluster performance in Flanders. The team's captain isn't too worried though and feels he'll be picking up some extremely able lieutenants for this week's Ardennes races.

"After the Tour of Flanders, I was a little bit worried, I admit. In the meantime, I saw our team grow, and I'm confident. Besides, I think we are better armed for the Walloon races than the cobblestones. I'm not worried. Jurgen Van den Broeck and Jelle Vanendert will be especially helpful to keep things under control."

As a rider who grew up on the course of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, in the shade of the Cote de la Redoute, there is no question where Gilbert's heart lies, but he says he's not thinking about his favorite race right now - just Sunday's Amstel Gold Race.

"No, I sit with my thoughts completely on the Amstel Gold Race. La Doyenne is something for next week. I will go with the moves on Sunday and see if I can win with half of my family and a lot of supporters along the way."

Gilbert has shown himself a cagey, smart rider, as well as a supremely powerful one, but in his comments on losing, he shows himself to be a wise one as well.

"If I've done everything to win, if I didn't make any errors, if I am beaten by a rider stronger than I am, I would be able to accept it, yes. C'est la vie. There are many more races to come, even more racing seasons. Beware though, the places of honor that Cancellara has already picked up this season. Many riders make a career of that. I can never be satisfied with fifth or tenth place, but those on the podium, they're sharing in the history of our sport, I think."


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