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Gilbert ‘feels ready’ for classics after disastrous 2012 run

MILAN (VN) — World champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) says he “feels ready” for the classics one year after a disastrous run. He opens his spring campaign this weekend in Italy with the GP Lugano, looking ahead to Milano-Sanremo and the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).

“There’s a lot of talk about last spring, but that is only three months in a 10-year career. I have nothing to complain about,” Gilbert said. “Certainly, I feel ready. My intention is to race the classics prepared.”

Gilbert said that several setbacks last year meant that he raced the classics behind form. He and the team refused specify, but rumors of personal problems surrounded the popular Walloon.

He ruled the 2011 season and collected several one-day victories, including all three Ardennes classics: Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Last year, after switching from Lotto to BMC Racing, Gilbert could only muster third in Flèche Wallonne.

Only the world championship title in Valkenburg, Netherlands, salvaged his season.

Not wanting to play catch-up, Gilbert began his 2013 season early at the Santos Tour Down Under and raced the Tour of Oman last week. He’ll start the GP Lugano Sunday with Cadel Evans and Brent Bookwalter.

“I dream of winning every race that I don’t yet have in my palmares, especially Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders. I already have the others,” Gilbert said. “In Sanremo, everything depends on the wind. With the wind at your back, it’s all possible. If the wind causes problems, then everyone just stays in the wheels and you might not have your shot.”

To have a shot at Sanremo, where he would most likely need to escape on the Cipressa or Poggio climbs, Gilbert must rely on friendly winds coming off the Mediterranean Sea.

“I’m aiming for a very long period this spring, from Sanremo to Liège [March 17 to April 21]. If you are not on top form for ‘La Primavera’ then you’ll be lacking for all of the classics,” he said. “But I do believe that you can win Sanremo without top condition. Several riders have already demonstrated it. Simon Gerrans last year was an exception; he had specifically aimed for it.”

Gilbert said he thinks the new Flanders parcours introduced last year, with the Paterberg climb three times, makes the De Ronde completely unpredictable.

“I’ve talked about it this winter with organizer Wouter Vandenhaute. Especially the flat 25 kilometers before the first ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, where anyone can recover and dropped riders can return, it makes the race a lottery,” Gilbert said. “We’ve only done it once so far, and in dry conditions. What if it rains? I don’t know many riders can ride up the Paterberg when it’s wet, only the first 15 riders; for the rest, it wouldn’t be pretty.”

Peter Sagan (Cannondale) is widely heralded as the next great champion of races like Sanremo and Flanders. He won two stages in Oman and over the last 12 months has given plenty of reason to believe he can fulfill his dreams. But Gilbert isn’t ready to cede his place atop the list of Ardennes favorites come April.

“I look mostly at myself. I know I’m bad at the moment, but the shape of the opposition only counts in the weeks ahead,” Gilbert said. “I don’t care if Sagan is stronger today. If he’s still stronger in Brabantse Pijl [April 10, ahead of the Ardennes Classics] then I have a problem. But this won’t be the case.”