MAASTRICHT, Netherlands (VN) – Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) won’t be repeating his historic Ardennes treble from a year ago, but he takes confidence out of his performance Sunday, even if he came up short on the win.
Gilbert looked to have the victory in his legs as he charged up the Cauberg to reel in the attacking Óscar Freire, but he obviously didn’t have the same power as a year ago.
Despite a sixth-place finish, Gilbert was sounding optimistic about the coming races.
“It gives me confidence for the next races,” he said. “Yes, I’ll be ready for Liège even if it’s a different type of race than Amstel. The team was taking its responsibility. I told Mauro Santambrogio and Greg Van Avermaet at 50k before the end that I was good and I asked that they work for me. They did, we were taking our responsibility.”
Gilbert remains winless through 2012 in what’s in sharp contrast to how his dreamlike 2011 season unfolded. This time last year, he had already won four races and reached the podium at Milan-San Remo before becoming the second rider in history to sweep all three Ardennes classics.He has admitted he doesn’t have the same form as last year, but insists he’s getting better when it counts.
“I was never in panic in the last weeks because I knew my best form would come one day,” he said. “There’s been a lot written, but I was confident. I knew the team was good and we have a good line up for Liège.”
The Belgian champion also says that he hasn’t felt any undue pressure from his new employers at BMC Racing. Despite signing a multi-million-dollar, three-year contract, team management has allowed Gilbert to race at his own pace.
Gilbert is taking aim at goals later this season, especially the Tour de France, the Olympic Games and the world championships, so his relatively quiet start of the 2012 season is something that BMC Racing staffers hope will be long forgotten as the season unfolds.
“The team gives me confidence. They were never critical about my form, they were always 100 perfect be behind me and that gives me confidence to improve,” he continued. “For the first time today, I felt my normal legs. That gives me confidence.”
BMC rallied around Gilbert at Amstel Gold, with the team pouring it on to help control the race. Cadel Evans pulled out early as a precautionary move as he fends off a minor chest cold, but others on the team went deep for Gilbert.
“Mauro Santambrogio and especially Greg Van Avermaet did a wonderful job. They put me in good position at the foot of Cauberg,” Gilbert said. “I had to go early though because Freire was in front. I had the impression that no one else would do it, they were looking at me. I did it, but at 300m from the finish my legs exploded and there I understood it was over.”
Gilbert is hoping he will soon have that extra 300 meters in his legs, especially next Sunday, on the Liège-Bastogne- Liège finish line.