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Gilbert optimistic for Liege after off day at Fleche Wallonne

The BMC rider triumphed in Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race but finished 10th in Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne

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GENT, Belgium (VN) — Philippe Gilbert says he hopes an off day at La Flèche Wallonne will work in his favor for Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Belgian and BMC Racing rider wants to win the biggest of the three Ardennes classics this Sunday for a second time.

“The fact that I was a little behind in the Flèche Wallonne will help me to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège,” Gilbert said after Wednesday’s race. “My opponents might think I’m not as good, which would’ve been a different story had I placed on the podium in Flèche.”

On Sunday, Gilbert pointed to the white BMC lettering on his red and black jersey as he won the Amstel Gold Race. He attacked on the Cauberg and rode away from his rivals with 2.5 kilometers remaining. The victory followed one in the Brabantse Pijl (Brabant Arrow) four days earlier.

The 31-year-old had not enjoyed such success in the Ardennes classics since his golden year in 2011, when he won Brabantse Pijl and all three Ardennes classics. He became only the second cyclist to do so after Davide Rebellin won the Ardennes Triple in 2004.

Finishing 10th yesterday, 15 seconds behind winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), reminded his rivals that they are dealing with a more tamed version of Gilbert.

“At the Amstel Gold Race, Gilbert was unbeatable,” Valverde said. “But in the Flèche Wallonne, that wasn’t the case.”

A combination of factors worked against Gilbert in La Flèche Wallonne: strength, positioning, and the wind. Due to the winds, Gilbert said the group did not split up as he had hoped it would.

“I thought we’d be a small group of 20,” he said. “I was too far back at the bottom of the Mur de Huy. When it’s like that, it’s hard to move up on the climb itself. You just have to wait until everyone is behind each other and then you can move up. I did that. I moved up six positions, but I couldn’t do any more.”

“Philippe didn’t have the legs that he had Sunday and he didn’t have a good position for the Mur,” BMC sport director Valerio Piva said.

“Tenth place was the maximum we could do.”

BMC is recovering and looking forward to the most prestigious of the Ardennes classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The race, one of cycling’s five monuments and this year celebrating its 100th edition, starts in Liège, travels south to Bastogne and returns for its finish in Liège’s outskirts in Ans. There are 10 climbs along the 263km route.

Gilbert knows it well and considers the race one of his favorites. Though he now lives in Monaco, he grew up in Wallonia near the Redoute climb.

“My legs were good, so that’s not a problem. It’s just a fact that the finishing climb up the Mur in the Flèche Wallonne suits me less than than the Cauberg in Amstel or Liège-Bastogne-Liège,” Gilbert said.

“I’m not down. In fact, I am optimistic for Liège. It’s a real classic, 260 kilometers. It’s good that we have four days of rest to recover and to be ready to win Liège.”