Philippe Gilbert will defend his Amstel Gold title and hope for continued improvement on Sunday in Holland. Since joining BMC Racing over the winter, he has yet to enjoy success.

“Every week it’s going better,” the Belgian said on Wednesday after the Brabantse Pijl. “I was really behind, though. It’s tough. I have to work just as hard as last year, but without success.”

Gilbert took an incredible 18 wins last year, most of which came in big races: all three Ardennes Classics, a Tour de France stage…

The Belgian press has been unforgiving this year as he goes race after race without a win. Leading newspaper, Het Nieuwsblad dedicated a two-page spread to Gilbert yesterday. It used part of the space to display this year’s results, DNFs included. He pulled out of Tirreno-Adriatico and the E3 Harelbeke last month, and ahead of Wednesday, enjoyed only a 15th place in the Tour du Haut Var.

In Brabantse Pijl, he placed 12th and saw that “it’s going better.” Talking about Amstel Gold, he said, “With my current shape I won’t be able to follow the best riders. I’ll have to anticipate their attacks, but with my name, I won’t be allowed freedom.”

He won the last two editions with attacking sprints up the final Cauberg climb.

“Don’t forget, I have not always been winning races,” he added. “Right now, it’s like three years ago.”

Three years ago, in 2009, Gilbert was winless until the Giro d’Italia’s 20th leg on May 30. His golden run didn’t start until the end of that year, when he won Coppa Sabatini, Paris-Tours, the Tour of Piedmont and the Tour of Lombardy.

He explained that last year’s success and team change took its toll.

“There are many reasons, like changing teams after a mentally and physically though year. It’s only human to rebound like this.”

Related links

Amstel Gold Race 2012: The Big Preview

Schleck and Sagan crash ahead of Ardennes

Spring Classics 2012: Coverage index

Philippe Gilbert: Rider profile