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Phillipe Gilbert reluctant to lead Belgium at worlds, unclear about remainder of 2011 season

For a rider who has made things look so easy this year, the remainder of Phillipe Gilbert’s 2011 dream season is surprisingly unclear.

QUÉBEC CITY,  Canada (VN) — For a rider who has made things look so easy this year, the remainder of Phillipe Gilbert’s 2011 dream season is surprisingly unclear.

Though he beat Robert Gesink for the win on Friday, Gilbert came to the Québec City and Montréal Grand Prix Cyclistes uncertain of his condition, aiming only to secure the UCI WorldTour rankings title.

Gilbert had intended to ride the world championships in support of Belgian compatriot Tom Boonen; in April, following Gilbert’s sweep of the Ardennes classics, they visited the course together for reconnaissance along with Belgian under-23 contender Jelle Wallays.

However, Boonen broke his hand at the Vuelta a España and is now unlikely to start the road race in Copenhagen, setting the nation’s expectations on Gilbert’s shoulders.

Belgium’s worlds squad has not yet  been announced, but other top-ranked Belgian WorldTour riders this season include Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Cervélo), Nick Nuyens (Quick Step), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil) and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto).

On Wednesday in Québec, the Omega Pharma-Lotto rider told Belgian reporters he did not want to be Belgium’s “only protected rider” on the flat Copenhagen course, which is expected to end in a field sprint.

“It makes no sense to have me as the only protected rider,” Gilbert said. “I’m not ready. My form is not the same as in April or July. During a difficult season I spent a lot of energy, both physically and mentally. It was never my intention to take on leadership in Copenhagen. Without Tom it is a difficult worlds. He is a specialist for one-day races and a course like the one in Denmark suits him more than me.”

And though the world championships will see Gilbert racing in national colors, the rest of the season will see him again racing in his trade-team kit; relations with his Omega Pharma team management have soured as the world number-one rider opted to head to BMC Racing team in 2012.

After winning in Québec, Gilbert was openly critical of his team, saying: “This victory is different because it was the first time I didn’t have a team to help me. We had a very weak team today. I was stressed throughout the race because I was often alone, especially in the finale. Those are situations that I’m not used to anymore.”

Asked if he might end the season before defending his title at the Tour of Lombardy, Gilbert said only: “I don’t know. My program is fixed until the world championships, and then I don’t know if I will do the fall classics, or what. I can’t tell you.”