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Philippe Gilbert downplays chances at final Amstel Gold Race

Belgian star wants to leave with hands held high and the Ardennes will be at the center of his swansong season.

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Philippe Gilbert returns to Amstel Gold Race for the last time Sunday.

A winner four times of the Dutch classic, the 39-year-old Belgian loves the Limburg hills. He also won his world title in 2012 in Valkenburg.

So how does he rate his chances Sunday for a fifth win?

“I’m not in top shape,” he said at a press conference Friday. “But I do feel a lot better than I’ve been in recent weeks.

“My confidence is already much better and the expectations are higher. Although it is currently a bit too early to talk about ambitions.”

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Gilbert was 10th at Volta Limburg Classic last weekend, his best result so far in his final season.

He’s not been in the mix for victory, and wasn’t a factor in Milan-San Remo last month, where he was racing for his last chance to win all five of cycling’s monuments.

“In the last races I was just following and I couldn’t do anything. That was not fun, but Saturday’s Volta Limburg Classic gave me confidence,” Gilbert said. “I was able to attack there and I was also able to answer some attacks. So I have improved.”

Gilbert said he still hasn’t committed to what he will do once he retires at the end of 2022 and hangs up his Lotto-Soudal jersey. He said he has a few options, but right now remains focused on racing.

“We’re only April,” he said. “As a professional you have to invest a lot of time in this profession. It is therefore difficult to think about the future now.

“I don’t want to make a hasty decision, so I’ll just wait and see. I still give everything for my passion, then there is time to work on other projects. Everything in its time.”

After Amstel Gold, Gilbert will race at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège before what he hopes will be one final dance at the Tour de France later this season.

One more time with hands held high

Philippe Gilbert, shown here in 2020, skipped Strade Bianche. (Photo: James Startt/VeloNews)

Gilbert isn’t waxing poetic about his life after racing or what his legacy might be.

The Belgian star is still all about business, even if the 2022 season is his final one in the peloton.

Gilbert, who will turn 40 in July, is still a professional racer, and he’s still focused on doing what he’s been doing for more than two decades. And that’s win races.

And there would be no better way for a final sendoff to his long and prolific career than with his hands held high, first across the finish line.

“I could have never imagined a career like this, with so many different wins,” Gilbert told VeloNews in an earlier interview. “It’s a long and successful career, but it’s not finished yet.

“I am still motivated to add something and I think everyone is dreaming about the final race where you can be winning and finishing with a win, that’s a dream of everyone,” Gilbert said.  “It’s hard to make it happen. I will do my best to do a good last year.”

There are no second thoughts on retirement.

“‘I am looking forward to this new life,” he said. “No, when I say something, I do it. I announced my last season and it will be like that. Even if I get an offer from someone else, I will refuse it. It’s enough for me.

“It was easy to decide. It’s been 20 years as a pro cyclist. It’s a long way. I sacrificed a lot of things in my life, my own family, my kids, just normal living. I just want to experience all of this now. I am looking forward to this new life.”