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Gilbert aiming for Liege victory in front of King Philippe

Gilbert hopes to tag team with Samuel Sánchez to deliver a victory at La Doyenne for BMC Racing

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CHAUDFONTAINE, Belgium (AFP) — Liège–Bastogne–Liège favorite Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) is looking for a historic victory at his home classic with Belgium’s King Philippe due to attend Sunday’s race.

Gilbert has won once before in Liège, but this year’s edition will be the 100th, hence the attendance of the Belgian monarch.

“To have the king at the start, this is always something very special because this is a big symbol of Belgium,” said last weekend’s Amstel Gold Race winner. “We’re all Belgians, Fleming and Walloon; for me the king is the biggest symbol we can have in Belgium and to have him at the start because of the 100th edition means a lot.

“If in future I make a book again, this picture (meeting the king before the start of Sunday’s race) will be for sure in the book and I’ll explain this picture to my kids. These really are rare moments and without sport or cycling, I would never have these moments.”

The 31-year-old Gilbert won this race in 2011 when he became only the second person to complete an Ardennes classics treble (after Davide Rebellin in 2004). And by winning the Amstel Gold last Sunday, as well as the semi-classic Brabantse Pijl the previous Wednesday, and finishing 10th at the Flèche Wallonne two days ago, Gilbert has proven he is in the right form to potentially add a second victory in Liège to his resume.

Gilbert, who was born in Verviers in the Walloon province of Liège, admitted this race is just a little bit more special for him.

“Liège is a monument, one of those five races you have in the season. It’s always bigger than Amstel but I was happy to win Amstel for the third time, and I will also give everything Sunday and try to win.”

He added: “That was the dream to win this race and I did it a few years ago and if I can win again, it will be also very nice. I will not stop with one win, every monument I try to win and do my best.”

Several times in the past Liège has been won courtesy of good teamwork, such as last year when Daniel Martin used his Garmin teammate Ryder Hesjedal as a foil before breaking away from a small group to haul back Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) and win by three seconds. Gilbert’s teammate Samuel Sánchez played a similarly important role in his win at Amstel, launching a dummy attack on the final Cauberg climb, forcing the Belgian’s main rivals to react and allowing Gilbert to counter-attack on the other side of the road to go on to win.

The 36-year-old Spaniard, who only joined BMC this season, has finished in the top 10 in Liège six times in nine previous attempts, including a best finish of second in 2007.

“He’s very important in the team. He’s relaxed, he gives a lot of motivation to the team and doesn’t put any pressure on you,” said Gilbert. “Just from riding in the bunch, I knew him pretty well. I had this feeling he’s really relaxed and that’s important.”