Philippe Gilbert (BMC) is just days away from the first of his main objectives this spring in the Ardennes. As usual, he will use tomorrow's warm-up race, the Brabantse Pijl, to finalize his preparations.
Philippe Gilbert made a last-minute adjustment to his usual spring schedule when he chose to skip the Tour of Flanders and instead prepare for the Ardennes classics in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Realizing that his condition did not allow him to a protagonist in the Flemish race, he chose to work on his climbing in Spain to get ready for his main objectives in Holland and Belgium.
The world champion had hoped to fight for the win in the first two stages of the Basque race but he missed out on both occasions and instead he worked on his form in the remaining mountains stages. He abandoned the rainy penultimate stage and has since recovered at his home in Monaco.
He does not regret his decision to make a last-minute adjustment to his schedule.
"The first stages were very hard," he said. "But I was always there and trying just to follow. I made some good efforts."
Tomorrow, he lines up in the traditional warm-up race for the Ardennes classics, the Brabantse Pijl. The race signalled the start of his fantastic run of success in 2011 when he held off Bjorn Leukemans to take the win that year. Last year's edition did, however, give the first signs that his early-season troubles were not behind him and that he would not be back at his best in his most important races.
Despite his mixed experiences, he sees the race as the perfect preparation event.
"I like Brabantse Pijl because it's technical and I can do a lot of efforts," he said. "I can go deep in this race and still recover in time for Amstel on Sunday."
Gilbert will line up as the team's main captain and sport director John Lelangue has plenty of confidence in his Belgian leader.
"Philippe will be a well-protected leader with some good support riders around him – for example, Adam Blythe, Klaas Lodewyck and Yannick Eijssen," he said. "It will be a good last dress rehearsal before the big week of the Ardennes classics."
The team has another strong option in the in-form Greg Van Avermaet. The Belgian is one of the select few to target both the cobbled and the Ardennes classics, and he even expanded his schedule even further this year to also include the Paris-Roubaix. With a 3rd place in the Gent-Wevelgem, a 7th in the Tour of Flanders and a 4th in Roubaix, he has saved the first part of the Belgian team's classics season and if he has recovered from Sunday's efforts, he will be a danger man tomorrow after taking 5th in the race last year.
Van Avermaet and Gilbert will be assisted by sprinter Adam Blythe, talented climber Yannick Eijssen, Swiss champion Martin Kohler and fast finishers Klaas Lodewyck and Danilo Wyss.
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