Belgian Philippe Gilbert has signed to the BMC Racing Team for 2012, joining world champion Thor Hushovd and 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans on the US-based squad.
Gilbert, 29, has established himself as one of the world’s most exciting and reliable one-day stars. His late attacking style has won him many fans, and many places on the top step of the podium.
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Many teams will have been clamouring for Gilbert’s signature for next season – but few would have been able to afford him.
This season alone, he has amassed an enviable list of wins for the Omega Pharma-Lotto team including Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Clasica San Sebastian, Montepaschi Strade Bianche, Brabantse Pijl and stages of the Tour de France, Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour of the Algarve and Eneco Tour.
Previously, Gilbert has won the Tour of Lombardy, Paris-Tours, Het Volk and stages of the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana and many other races.
Gilbert will focus on the classics again in 2012, and assist Cadel Evans the 2012 Tour de France.
BMC team manager Jim Ochowicz said of Gilbert’s signing: “He will act as one of our leaders during the classics and other races throughout the season. His power and tenacity will play a big role in support of Cadel’s defence of his Tour de France title.”
Gilbert added: “They [BMC] were interested in me from the beginning plus I know the team well. They are well-organised, very professional and a close group.”
“My objectives are clear: to go for the one-day classics and then go to the Tour to learn and help Cadel. Next year with the start in Liege, it’s close to my home. So I will try to win a stage and then help Cadel win the Tour.”
Evans described Gilbert’s signing to the team as ‘fantastic’. “I suspect I’ll be a domestique in the Ardennes week, but I look forward to it and it will be a pleasure,” said Evans, who rode with Gilbert on the Silence-Lotto (now Omega Pharma-Lotto) team during 2009.
On paper, BMC’s potential squad for the 2012 Tour de France is incredibly strong with Gilbert and Hushovd hunting for stage wins, and Evans for the overall win.
However, Hushovd and Gilbert will have similar targets in the one-day classics and hilly stages of Grand Tours leading to a potential conflict of team leadership. On stage four of this year’s Tour, Evans, Gilbert and Hushovd were first, fifth and sixth on the stage – all three were going for the win.
Currently, Evans and Gilbert occupy the top two places in the UCI’s WorldTour ranking.
Gilbert on his way to winning 2011 Liege-Bastogne-Liege
Philippe Gilbert: 2011 victories
Tour of the Algarve; stage one
Montepaschi Strade Bianche
Tirreno-Adriatico; stage five
Amstel Gold Race
Belgian road race national champion
Tour de France; stage one
Clasica San Sebastian
Eneco Tour; stage three