Philippe Gilbert‘s extraordinary Tour of Flanders victory last year came as little surprise in the context of the preceding fortnight, during which he had already made several resounding statements of intent. A defending champion can hardly fly in under the radar, but the Belgian’s form this time around is certainly far less clear.
Twelve months ago, Gilbert burst Dwars door Vlaanderen apart in the first outing of the main cobbled classics period, finishing second behind teammate Yves Lampaert. He went on to finish second at E3 Harelbeke and then won the Three Days of De Panne, before unleashing himself on that famous 55km solo raid at the Ronde.
This year, after finishing 75th at Milan-San Remo, he was second once again at E3 – this time behind a teammate in Niki Terpstra – and 17th at Gent-Wevelgem, while he chose not to race in the week leading up to Flanders. He has hardly been disappointing, but race dynamics have largely kept him on the leash while teammates have brought in the results.
“The feeling wasn’t like last year,” Gilbert admitted at Quick-Step Floors‘ pre-Tour of Flanders press conference in Wielsbeke on Friday evening. “I was good, yes, but I didn’t feel really strong. I was ready, but those races were not really important in my eyes – they were only the last training, the last preparation.
“Last year I was on a slightly superior level. We’re talking a few percentages, but at that level one per cent can make a big difference. That’s how it is. I know it, and I know how to manage my potential, and I’ll make do.”
Dwars door Vlaanderen swapped places on the calendar with the Three Days of De Panne this year, and Gilbert opted to skip it in order return to his home in Monaco.
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