Belgian world champion Philippe Gilbert is expecting Sunday’s 99th Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic, which he won in 2011, to be a tactical affair.
“It’s going to be more tactical and therefore important to rely on your team, I’ve got confidence in them” Gilbert said of his BMC outfit, before lamenting the absence of two of his teammates. “Here we’re competing without Van Garderen and without Evans, it’s going to make a big difference,” said Gilbert, who could manage only 15th in the second of the Ardennes classics, Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne.
The American team’s manager John Lelangue explained that American Van Garderen was sidestepping the 261.5km showpiece known as the doyen of the one-day classics as he has recently become a father, while Australian Evans is otherwise engaged in a race in Italy. Gilbert believes that to be in with a winning chance it’ll be crucial to be in a strong position by the time Sunday’s race reaches the bottom of the Saint Nicholas climb, seven kilometers from the finish.
“I see a group of 40-50 riders at the foot of Saint-Nicholas…the last climb towards Ans is always tricky enough, it’s difficult to maintain a lead of 10-15 seconds, it risks being tight,” the 30-year-old said. “A lot of riders are on the same level, no one can cancel out a rival,” he added, reflecting on the way the two Ardennes classics already staged, the Amstel Gold Race and the Fleche Wallonne, escaped the clutches of the fancied competitors. The local rider, known in the peloton as ‘the boar of the Ardennes’, believes it’s a plus to be competing in Belgium.
“To ride at home is an advantage. It always brings back memories for me, of my childhood, the start of my career and more recently my victory (two years ago). I always feel lots of emotion, I try to be at my very best. Mentally I’m ready, we just need a bit of success. The dream of my career was to be world champion – I’ve done that, but to win a classic, and especially Liege-Bastogne-Liege with this team, that’s something that I never dared dream about.”
Among Gilbert’s main dangers will be Katusha team leader Joaquim Rodriguez, who fell in last Sunday’s Amstel and who had to settle for sixth behind teammate Daniel Moreno in the Fleche Wallonne.