(This story has been updated from its original version, following a phone conversation with BMC Racing manager Jim Ochowicz -Ed.)
BMC Racing’s Philippe Gilbert has withdrawn from the Tour de Suisse and will not compete at the Tour de France next month, the team announced Tuesday, citing a “small, non-displaced fracture on Gilbert’s lower leg.”
The announcement comes three days after Gilbert arrived at the start of the Tour de Suisse questioning if he was there to earn a spot on BMC’s Tour de France team, though he is fresh off winning two stages at the Giro d’Italia.
Gilbert told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday he was still waiting for word on his Tour de France selection, adding that it was affecting his mental preparation.
“It’s hard to motivate yourself when you have no insight into your program,” Gilbert told Het Nieuwsblad. “Do they want me there? I have heard nothing. You should call [BMC team manager Jim] Ochowicz. Do you have his number? I think this is already a very bizarre situation. No, I do not understand their approach.”
The former world champion intimated then that his pair of stage wins at the Giro, as well as finishing second in the points competition, meant he should not have to prove his form this week at the Tour de Suisse in order to be selected for the Tour de France.
“I’m not a neo-pro anymore,” said Gilbert, who turns 33 on July 5. “I have nothing more to prove, especially after my two stage victories in the Giro. [BMC Racing management] refuse to show me that confidence. I am fresh after the Giro, I climbed better than ever without having to overdo it. Furthermore, there are many opportunities for me in the first week of the Tour. I’m here [at the Tour de Suisse] to try to show that I’m good.”
However on Tuesday, a BMC team statement announced that a recent MRI had shown a small fracture to Gilbert’s postero-lateral tibia head, which led to knee pain. The team added that the fracture was “likely related to his crash at La Flèche Wallonne in April,” which came several weeks before his two Giro stage wins.
In the same statement, Ochowicz said he and Gilbert had spoken and mutually agreed the 2012 world champion would not participate in this year’s Tour de France, adding that the team was all-in for American Tejay van Garderen, who finished second overall to Chris Froome (Sky) on Sunday at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
“We had a productive and open discussion regarding his current health and the second part of his season and goals,” Ochowicz said. “The eight riders that we do select to support Tejay van Garderen will be chosen based on current health and performance. We want the best eight candidates at the start in Utrecht and right now Philippe is not at his best.”
Gilbert was also quoted in the team statement, saying that, while he was disappointed to miss the Tour, he is already looking ahead to big goals for the latter part of the season. (Audio recording can be heard here.)
“Of course, I was motivated for the Tour because it is going to pass in a part of Belgium and there is also the nice finish on the Mur de Huy,” he said. “But the Tour de France is every year. It is not like I am missing something like the Olympic Games. So every year you have a chance to do it and I have already done it a few times and have had a lot of success at this race already.
“Also, a big goal for me is always the worlds and Il Lombardia, which is one of the nicest classics of the season,” Gilbert said. “I know with these problems, I can maybe go to the Tour, but not at 100 percent. Even if I do this, I will finish the Tour completely empty and that will mean I will do everything — the Tour and the end of the season — at 80 percent. So at this point, I have to make a choice to skip the Tour. My first objective is to feel healthy again and not feel the pain anymore.”
Gilbert’s current contract with BMC runs through the 2016 season. He last rode the Tour in 2013. In 2011, he won the first stage and held the yellow jersey for one stage.
Reached by phone Tuesday and asked to explain the discrepancies between Gilbert’s statements on Saturday and BMC’s announcement, Ochowicz said that he didn’t care to directly address the Het Nieuwsblad story, but he acknowledged that the team had been waiting to see how van Garderen rode at the Critérium du Dauphiné, and how Gilbert rode at the Tour de Suisse, before making any decisions.
“I’m not going to address what Philippe may or may not have said to a Flemish journalist,” Ochowicz said. “I don’t even know what he said; there is no exact English interpretation that I know of. I’m not going to base facts on what some journalist at Het Nieuwsblad wrote, or try to clarify something I can’t read. I don’t need to know what was reported there. I sat in the hotel room with Philippe last night and discussed it with him.
“We see the Tour de France course in October, and we meet in December with the riders, and we talk to a certain group of them that the course suits,” Ochowicz continued. “It starts with 14 riders in December, and by the time you get here, maybe you have 11 or 12 of them who are healthy, and fit enough. These selections are difficult, and they are based on current physical condition, health, and performance. Even in Tejay’s case, he comes out of the Dauphiné in second place overall, after a close fight with Chris Froome, so some would consider him a favorite, but we were uncertain about Tejay, he had some problems in earlier stage races, some incidents that happened.
“We’re selecting people based on current health and performance. Philippe did a great Giro, but prior to that he had a serious crash at Flèche Wallonne. He was able to recover enough at the Giro, he had a great performance there, and the team helped him a lot there. We came out of the Giro with at least three or four candidates for the Tour that did the Giro, and we have to evaluate whether they’ve recovered from that, and that’s not something that happens the day after the Giro. An evaluation takes place. In Philippe’s case, we knew a week ago that he did an MRI, we knew something was going on there. The medical staff released him to do Suisse, but after a few days of racing, he didn’t feel comfortable about his knee. There was no point to push him into the Tour, when he still has the whole second half of the season, from San Sebastian to Lombardia.
“This year’s Giro was pretty tough, by all accounts, and Philippe just couldn’t get the feeling back to race, which is probably going to be the case with other people as well,” Ochowicz said. “There was no reason to bury him into the Tour de France, and maybe lose him for the rest of the season, when we have 11 or 12 candidates still standing.”
Ochowicz said that BMC Racing will be “100 percent wrapped around Tejay” at the Tour, adding that the team expects to announce its nine-man roster for the race sometime after the Tour de Suisse, which ends Sunday.
— PHILIPPE GILBERT (@PhilippeGilbert) June 16, 2015