Vuelta a Espana

Winless Philippe Gilbert gives it another go in stage 3 at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana

The Belgian champ said he was going to attack — and that’s just what he did.

EIBAR, Spain (VN) — Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) gave it a good shove in Monday’s third stage at the Vuelta a España in what he hopes is a preview of what lies in store for the world championships.

Gilbert told his teammates inside the BMC team bus before the start of the stage Monday that he was going to attack — and that’s just what he did.

“I am happy with the ride today. I was hoping we could have more advantage and maybe go for the stage win, but the group would not let us go,” Gilbert said at the finish line in Arrate. “We thought it was going to rain and that would have helped our chances. As it is, baagh, it was impossible.”

Gilbert remains optimistic about his season, though there is mounting pressure for him to win. Something, anything.

And time is clearly running out.

Ranked No. 1 in the world last year after his incredible 18-win season, Gilbert has struggled with early season illness that knocked him off the winning rails.

Winless all season, Gilbert is now ranked 64th in the world and knows that he needs to produce at least one major result to quiet the murmurs of discontent.

“I would like to win a stage at this Vuelta,” Gilbert said. “I also want to race here to get ready for the worlds.”

Gilbert’s season has unfolded as one of a “big win is looming.”

After his spring classics campaign fell flat, with sixth at Amstel Gold Race and third at Fleche Wallonne, the focus turned to the Tour de France.

Riding in support of Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen, he missed a chance to win on home roads in the opening stages in Belgium and could only muster two fourth places across three weeks.

After that, everyone said he could save his season with a gold medal in London, but he walked away without any Olympic hardware placing 19th in the road race and 17th in the time trial.

It hasn’t been for a lack of trying. In London, he looked to be the Gilbert of old with a string of searing attacks up and over Box Hill that helped forge the winning breakaway that held off Team GB in the Olympic road race.

Now it’s the Vuelta, with mounting pressure for a season-saving ride at the world championships.

If Gilbert is worried, he’s not showing it.

At the finish line at Arrate after wiping down following a hard stage, he looked as strong and confident as ever.

“Do I have to go to the podium for anything?” he asked, wondering if he had won the mountains jersey.

The answer was no. No trips to the podium. At least not yet.