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Philippe Gilbert tweaks spring schedule with eye on 2011 Tour de France

Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) is tweaking his spring schedule to make room for a return to the Tour de France.

2010 Giro di Lombardia Gilbert makes it two-in-a-row
Gilbert wants to take his winning ways to the Tour.

The Belgian classics specialist hasn’t raced the Tour since 2008 and has some unfinished business with the stage finish at Plumelec and the Mur the Bretagne, where he was second to Alejandro Valverde that year.

“The course is good for me and I can aim for a few stages,” Gilbert told La Derniere Heure. “The stages with an uphill finish, like the Mur de Bretagne, that’s my specialty. I have a lot confidence in this terrain.”

Gilbert, already a winner of one stage at the Giro d’Italia and two at the Vuelta a España, has never won a stage at the Tour in four participations. He’s skipped the Tour the past two years in part to focus on the classics and worlds.

Those major goals don’t change in 2011, but a bumpy Tour course is appealing to Gilbert.

“I’d like to try to win a stage,” he continued. “I’d like to have a (Tour win) on my palmares. I’d also like to grab the maillot jaune. Also, I could help (André) Greipel as well as (Jurgen) Van den Broeck.”

His first major goals will be the spring classics, where he’s hoping to round out his resume following his breakthrough victory at Amstel Gold Race last year. The Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are both courses that Gilbert dreams of winning.

Gilbert also expressed doubt that he would be strong at the debut of the spring classics season, especially the opening weekend for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in late February because his Omega Pharma-Lotto team is not participating in the tours of Qatar and Oman. Instead, Gilbert will be racing at the Mallorca Challenge and training from his base in Monaco.

“Those races are ideal for the preparation, with the wind and the speed,” he said. “I might notice the difference in the opening weekend, at Nieuwsblad, but in two months, this difference of a few days won’t count for anything.”

Gilbert also prefers Tirreno-Adriatico this year ahead of Paris-Nice, where he’s raced the past seven years in a row.

“It’s not just because the winner of Milan-San Remo has come (from Tirreno) every year since 1999, it’s because I need a change,” he explained. “I’ve raced Paris-Nice seven times, and it’s more of a course for climbers, and there’s always bad weather. I’ve never done anything special there, never won a stage. Also, I like racing in Italy.”

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