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ROUBAIX, France (VN) — There was no miracle for Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step) on Sunday, but there was perhaps a moment when he was quietly hoping so.
The veteran Belgian in only his second career Paris-Roubaix was first out of the Arenberg sector, and even led the front chase group. There was an instant when expectations rose — could Gilbert take his fourth monument and move within one of a career sweep?
“It was a tough race,” Gilbert said shaking his head. “It was hard, fast and difficult.”
Gilbert sprinted to 15th to lead the third chase group into the velodrome, a solid result for the Roubaix sophomore. For most riders, that would be enough. Gilbert always wants more.
“Like I said before the race, it was hard to know what to expect from Roubaix because I don’t have much experience here,” Gilbert said. “I was suffering a lot, just like everyone.”
VeloNews chatted to Gilbert after he came out of Roubaix’s hallowed showers, one of the few riders to go into the ancient shower facilities where the winner of every Roubaix edition has their name on a plaque.
If Gilbert was hoping to add his name to his cycling hall of fame he’ll have to wait another year.
Gilbert’s so-called “drive for five” to win all five of cycling monuments will be put on a hold until 2019. At 35, time might be running out. He’s won Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège once each and Giro di Lombardia twice.
“I missed some bottles and I didn’t drink for a long time. I was on my limit for 40km,” he said. “I was recovering little by little, but it was too late. I don’t know how many guys were in front of me. I don’t know who many places I was sprinting for in the end.
“At a certain point I was a little bit lost,” he said. “I didn’t have the knowledge of the race and it was not easy.”
Gilbert leaves the classics with mixed feelings. He was part of a winning Quick-Step strategy, but he didn’t get to stand on the top step himself. He seemed to have legs for more. He was second at E3-Harelbeke and third at Tour of Flanders, both times behind teammate Niki Terpstra. He was 17th at Gent-Wevelgem after taking huge pulls for teammate Elia Viviani, who finished a tearful second to Peter Sagan.
“Yeah, it was a big win for Sagan today. Good for him,” Gilbert said. “Quick-Step, we won a lot, but not everything.”
Gilbert is not done yet. He’s confirmed to race Amstel Gold and Liège, with a possible start in Flèche Wallonne. He promises to go to help rising stars like Julian Alaphilippe and Bob Jungels. The race dynamics might lead to something else.