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No pave in 2015: Gilbert sticking to what he knows best

The BMC rider said he wants to return to the cobbles before he retires, but not next year

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DENIA, Spain (VN) — Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) is sticking to what he knows best, and will steer clear of the cobblestones in 2015.

Despite rumors that the former world champion was poised to tackle the northern classics again next season, Gilbert instead is returning to his roots, and aims to shine where he will start with a higher chance of success. That means the Ardennes, and some unsettled business with Milano-Sanremo. The cobbles can wait.

“I said I would like to go back to the pavé before I retire, but not in 2015. I am not finishing my career next year,” Gilbert said at a team camp in Spain. “My best choices now are doing the explosive races, like Lombardia, Sanremo, and Liège. When I start losing that, then I go to the northern classics. It’s impossible to do both. If you go hard in those races on the cobbles, I don’t know if you can be at the top for the Ardennes the next week.”

Gilbert last raced the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) in 2012, and last participated in Paris-Roubaix in 2007. In fact, in 2007, he raced straight across the entire Belgian classics campaign, racing from E3 Prijs Vlaanderen all the way to Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Despite a pair of third-place podiums at Flanders, Gilbert will leave the northern classics for another season. For 2015, he will go all-in for the Ardennes.

“My dream is to win Liège another time, but I will always do better at Amstel Gold Race. I love the Cauberg. It’s my favorite climb in the world,” Gilbert said of the finishing climb at Amstel Gold. “If the finish was still in Maastricht, I would have never won it. You can take the Cauberg with the big ring, with big power, and high speed. It’s perfect for my characteristics.”

Gilbert will debut his season at the Dubai Tour in February, and stay in the Middle East to race the Tour of Oman. He’ll then return to Europe, with the spring classics front and center on his radar.

Now 32, Gilbert is also looking with relish at the return of the classic course at Milano-Sanremo. Organizers already removed the La Manie climb last year, and, despite talk of adding the Pompeiana climb, moved the finish line back to the Via Roma, in what’s a return to the traditional course for the first time since 2007. Gilbert is still hoping he can win the race once that compatriot Eddy Merckx won seven times.

“I would like to do well in Sanremo, now they’ve ‘fixed’ the parcours to the one I like the most,” he said. “It’s a better race when we go faster. When there were more climbs, everyone was waiting. A faster race is harder. And without the La Maniè, it’s harder because the group really has to chase to bring back the breakaway.”

Gilbert had another solid season in 2014, with seven wins, including the overalls at the Ster ZLM Toer and the final edition of the Tour of Beijing. Though still not quite at the level he was in 2010 or 2011, when he swept the Ardennes, Gilbert still managed to win Brabantse Pijl, along with Amstel Gold for a third time.

BMC will lean even more on Gilbert next season. With the departures of such riders as Thor Hushovd, Cadel Evans, Alessandro Ballan, and Samuel Sánchez, BMC will be looking for big results from Gilbert.

BMC’s sporting manager Allan Peiper said when there were rumors that Gilbert was considering a return to the northern cobbles, he sent sport director Valerio Piva to have a chat with him.

“Piva went to see him in Liège, and asked him how he expects to do all this in one season. He said your events are in the Ardennes, that’s where you’ve won, and that’s where you have to focus,” Peiper said. “Phil is the bike rider’s bike rider. He wanted to race on the flats, the Ardennes, the pink jersey at the Giro, the Tour, and the worlds. But in today’s peloton, that’s not really possible. Riders are peaking for events more than ever.”

Against the trend of beards and tattoos in the peloton, Gilbert sees himself as an old-school rider who prefers to race on instincts and guts, rather than calculated moves based on power meters.

“We all use an SRM, they’re great for training, but during a race, I prefer to feel it in my legs when I am winning a race than to see it on a graph,” he said.

He insists he races on instinct, and always attacks, even when he knows it might not work. He admitted he could perhaps win even more races if he didn’t attack, but said he just can’t help himself.

“My way of racing is attacking. I like it when riders go on the attack, and try things,” he said. “I like the way [Peter] Sagan is racing. He receives a lot of criticism, because he lost a few stages, but that’s what people like to see, riders attacking. … A rider like [Alejandro] Valverde, he never wants to go on the attack. He is always defending, and staying with the others, but he is always hard to beat.

“I have always been aggressive in my way of racing,” Gilbert continued. “I enjoy winning a race more when I win by attacking.”

Gilbert plans on attacking the entire 2015 season. Although he’s agreed not to race the northern classics, he’ll be busy nonetheless, with a likely return to the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France before another run at the world championships.

“I don’t race to show people anything,” he said. “I do it for myself, and for my team. I still enjoy it. I can play on the bike, and when it’s time to train and race, I still really enjoy it.”