Belgian Philippe Gilbert is the number one favourite to win the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, his home race.
Exactly one week ago, he won his first Ardennes Classic, Amstel Gold, with an unstoppable attack on the Cauberg. He showed strongly in Flèche Wallonne by remaining with the favourites on the Mur de Huy and finishing sixth behind Cadel Evans.
The third of the three Ardennes Classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, is different, though. The 258-kilometre race in Belgium’s Wallonia region finishes just 30 kilometres away from Verviers, where Gilbert grew up.
“It is his home race and the one he wants to win, but he is not nervous. In my opinion, he is calmer before this race than he was before Amstel Gold because he knows all the roads. He knows them by heart,” Omega Pharma-Lotto’s team manger, Marc Sergeant, told Cycling Weekly.
“He was close before, but never really close. He sprinted for fourth place in last year, but he was never in a situation where he could really win. I think, more than ever, with the form he has now that he should take it.”
If Gilbert wins, he will be crowned King of Wallonia, being the first Walloon to win the race since Frank Vandenbroucke in 1999. It is not Vandenbroucke, though, who pundits compare Gilbert to, but Italian Paolo Bettini.
Bettini won Liège-Bastogne-Liège twice and was one of the most complete one-day riders before retiring at the 2008 World Championships, a race he won in 2006 and 2007. In fact, the World Championships are Gilbert’s next goal.
“We had an agreement, if he was not able to win a classic then he would race the Tour de France,” continued Sergeant. “Now that he won Amstel, he will concentrate on the Worlds.”
Gilbert will race the Tour of Romandy next week and then take a break before starting the second half of his season. He plans on racing all three weeks of the Vuelta a España before jumping on an aeroplane for Melbourne, Australia, where the race starts two weeks later.
“When he starts planning something it is not weeks before, but months before. He said that he will have no problems travelling to Australia and that he did it all the time when he was Française des Jeux. He said, ‘I just have to recover and I will be there, you will see.'”