Belgian Philippe Gilbert's march towards the rainbow jersey of World Champion begins on Saturday in Sevilla, Spain, for the start of the 2010 Vuelta a Espana. He will lead Omega Pharma-Lotto in search of stage wins, but with an eye on his form for the Worlds in Geelong, Australia, on October 3.
"My goal is to prepare for the Worlds but also to try and grab a stage", Gilbert said. "It's an excellent race for training because there are many young riders doing their first Grand Tour. They hurt our legs less than the experienced riders of the Tour de France."
Last year, he ended the Vuelta a Espana with superb form. The form allowed him to finish sixth at World Championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland, one week later and then won four consecutive one-day races: Paris-Tours, Coppa Sabatini, Tour of Piedmont and Tour of Lombardy.
This time around, he hopes the Vuelta a Espana gives him the form to win the Worlds, this year two weeks later in Geelong, Australia. The course will allow both sprinters and punchy riders, like Gilbert, their chance to win the rainbow jersey. Gilbert hopes to utilise the two climbs - the Ridge and Aphrasia St - to give team Belgium its first rainbow jersey since Tom Boonen's win in Madrid in 2005.
Gilbert proved his punch is there earlier this season at the Ardennes Classics. He won Dutch classic, Amstel Gold with an unstoppable attack on the Cauberg and continued through the last week of April to place sixth at the Flèche Wallonne and third at his home classic, Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
His success in the Ardennes Classics gave him the freedom in team Omega Pharma-Lotto to skip the Tour de France and to focus on the World Championships.
"We had an agreement, if he was not able to win a classic then he would race the Tour de France. Now that he won Amstel, he will concentrate on the Worlds," team manager, Marc Sergeant said in April.
Following April and a break, Gilbert returned to training at his home in Monaco, married his girlfriend Patricia and began racing again: Clásica San Sebastián (43rd place), Vattenfall Cyclassics (33rd) and GP Plouay (43rd).
The Vuelta a España is next, beginning in Sevilla on Saturday with a team time trial and ending three weeks later, on September 19, in Madrid. Belgian head coach, Carlo Bomans, will announce during the Vuelta his country's nine-man team for Worlds, with a spot reserved for Gilbert.
Great Britain will take only three riders, Mark Cavendish and two others. The International Cycling Union (UCI) allocates the spots, with a maximum of nine, based on national rankings. This year, there are nine nations with the full quota of nine riders: Belgium, Spain, Italy, Australia, USA, Russia, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.
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