Philippe Gilbert Unconcerned By His Fleche Wallone Performance

Gilbert_Amstel Gold_2014
by Barnaby CHESTERMAN

HUY, Belgium, April 24, 2014 (AFP) – Amstel Gold winner Philippe Gilbert
brushed off his disappointing 10th placed finish at Fleche Wallonne, insisting
he is focused on Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

The 31-year-old Belgian was the clear favourite coming into Wednesday’s
race having blitzed the opposition in last Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, where he
finished five seconds clear of second-placed Jelle Vanendert despite letting
up as he celebrated his win before crossing the line.

Yet he was caught in a bad position at the foot of the final Mur de Huy
climb at the Fleche Wallonne and was unable to work his way through the field,
ending up 10th, 15sec behind winner Alejandro Valverde.

But Gilbert said it meant little, confirming his assertion before the
second of the three ‘Ardennes Classics’ that it was “just a midweek race” and
that his true objective is victory in Liege, the fourth of five ‘Monument’
races this year.

“It went really fast, it was a very difficult race that went fast right
from the off,” said the BMC rider.

“I was a little trapped in the lead-up to the Mur (wall) and I didn’t
manage to get in the right position.

“It’s a shame. I saw Valverde attack but from where I was, it was
impossible to react.

“All I could do was watch. I was still hoping that others had attacked too
soon and would run out of steam just before the finish, but Valverde was very
strong.

“I’m not panicking, I had good legs and what counts for me is Sunday:
Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

“Not winning (on Wednesday) isn’t such a bad thing. It will relieve some of
the pressure because I showed some limits, whereas Valverde showed he’s really
very strong.”

That may be wishful thinking from Gilbert as all the talk following the
Fleche race was about a battle between him and Valverde in Liege.

But the Spaniard, who turns 34 on Friday, insisted there will be others in
the mix as well.

“At Amstel it was clear that Gilbert was very difficult to beat, if not
impossible and behind (Valverde finished fourth) we weren’t able to follow
him,” said the two-time winner of both Fleche and Liege.

“But every race is different, for example this time Gilbert started aiming
to win but he didn’t manage it and I won.

“Now we’ll see at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, which is a very beautiful and tough
race; it’s very demanding, I like it a lot.

“We’ll be there fighting and putting on a show, the fans will reap the
benefits with us. This is sport, sometimes one wins, sometimes it’s another.

“There will be Gilbert, I’ll be there, but it won’t just be us two. I think
there will be a lot of other riders fighting for victory.

“There are very good rivals and we’re 10-15 or so who — some are a bit
better, others a bit worse — but any one could win in Liege.”

One such rival will be Irishman Daniel Martin, the reigning champion in
Liege who was second to Valverde at the Fleche.

“I knew I’d been training well but obviously training is different to
racing,” said the 27-year-old.

“This is my first result of the year really, this was my first objective of
the year and it’s nice to come away with a second, a podium, in the first race
I was really aiming for.

“It’s a good confirmation before Sunday and of course before the Giro
(d’Italia in May); that’s my big goal for the first part of the year and the
whole season really.

“It’s nice to have a confidence boost before that and to know training’s
been going well.”

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