Philippe Gilbert admits he’s not at the same level as last year when he blasted to victory going into this weekend’s Montepaschi Strade Bianchi across the white roads of Tuscany.
Gilbert’s dream spring began last year when he roared to victory ahead of an elite pack of contenders that includes now-BMC teammate Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego.
Ballan will join Gilbert on Saturday, along with George Hincapie, who makes his season debut for Team BMC, as Gilbert will feel the pressure early to try to live up to impressive spring campaign last year that included a clean sweep of the Ardennes classics.
“I will start this race with motivation because it’s a nice race,” Gilbert said in a BMC release. “My feeling was not great last weekend like last year at the same moment. But there’s still no stress for me. The season is long and my goals will come later.”
With Tour de France champion Cadel Evans lining up as a helper, BMC will be the favorite to defend Gilbert’s title.
Gilbert will see tough competition in the first major Italian race of the season. Former winners Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek) and Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) stand out on the official entry list of 14 teams for what’s one of the most dramatic and spectacular days of racing of the year.
The 190km route rolls over the steep, green hills of Tuscany and barrels over eight unpaved sectors of white, loose gravel roads from Giaole to Sienna’s Piazza del Campo.
Ryder Hesjedal will lead a strong Garmin-Barracuda squad that also includes Christian Vande Velde, Paris-Roubaix champion Johan Vansummeren and Dan Martin.
Other pre-race favorites include Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), Fabio Duarte (Colombia-Coldeportes), Daniel Bennati (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek) and Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini), back earlier than expected from a fractured collarbone in Qatar. Liquigas-Cannondale also brings a strong squad with Peter Sagan, Moreno Moser and Vincenzo Nibali.