HUY, Belgium (VN) — Twelfth in Brabantse Pijl, sixth in Amstel Gold, third at Flèche Wallonne: Philippe Gilbert is at least moving in the right direction.
Whether that factor of three hits big on Sunday for Liège-Bastogne-Liège remains to be seen for the BMC Racing superstar.
The defending Flèche champion wasn’t the same force he was a year ago when he swept the Ardennes week, but he said time was on his side.
“Winning is what counts, but third is a good sign. The legs are feeling better each passing day,” Gilbert said. “I have fought back from a long way down and I am satisfied to be at this level. We will see Sunday.”
Gilbert was unstoppable last year, becoming the second rider in history to sweep all three classics during “Ardennes week.”
This year, he’s been far from the giant-killer he was in 2011, and Gilbert has been playing catch-up with his form all spring. He’s hoping to hit it by Sunday.
“I have been working hard and I am hopeful that the form can arrive just in time for Sunday. Liège is the race that I really want to win if I had to choose,” Gilbert said. “I think that the weather will play to my advantage. The Italian or Spanish riders do not like the cold while I can stand it. Perhaps that can be an advantage for me.”
On Wednesday, he clawed his way up the Mur, but it was Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) who took a page from Gilbert’s playbook and attacked at exactly the same place where the Belgian did last year.
“I knew it was 300 meters to go, at 20kph, that’s 30 seconds full-out. I knew I couldn’t do that, so I waited a little bit,” he said. That opened the door for Rodríguez, who dashed to the win four seconds clear of his adversary.
“Gilbert was unbeatable last year and he is obviously not at the same level as he was last year, because I am at that same level,” Rodríguez said. “It’s obvious that he is overcoming his problems and getting stronger. He will be there for the win on Sunday.”