Philippe Gilbert has said he is targeting "a good result in a big race" in his last season as a professional cyclist, but won't look for easy wins.
The former world champion will hang up his wheels after twenty years in the peloton, during which time he's won four out of the five monuments, only the sixth man in history to do achieve an almost clean sweep.
In an interview in the final issue of Procycling magazine, Gilbert said: "Of course I want to win a race, but I want to be there in the final of a big race. For me, this is the most important thing.
"I have never been the rider who has been chasing easy wins, like a lot of riders that I have seen in my career, and I have been looking for the nicest challenge instead."
He continued: "I've spent maybe 90 per cent of my career at the WorldTour level, against the best riders, and this will not change. I don't want to do small races just to get a win. If I'm in the top five at Nieuwsblad against the best I will be happy, I want to fight with them."
The Belgian has not won a race since he moved back to Lotto-Soudal in 2020, with the pandemic and injury affecting his form. Not winning is something that he said he has struggled with.
"It has been two difficult years, two years to forget," he explained. "I hope to have a better last one. I don't like to be in this situation, and be behind, but you have to deal with it and I take this as experience also.
"I was working a lot, but I was far back behind where I wanted to be at the start. Last winter, I was really struggling, and with my age, it doesn't help. It was really hard to come back into the game, and then the season was so quick again."
Gilbert said he still has "a lot of motivation" to get results, and hopes he wins again. It will be a different feeling though, he said.
"When you are in this mood, when you always win, it becomes almost normal, and when you miss that you realise that it is really hard to win a bike race actually. I don't know how it will be when I come for a win next time, if I will be more nervous than normal, because it has been such a long time now. This is something I have never experienced, I am a bit curious about my reaction."
The 39-year old has won the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia in his storied career, as well seven stages of the Vuelta a España. In 2011, he was undoubtedly the best cyclist in the world, as he won 17 races, including the Ardennes triple of Liège, Flèche Wallonne, and the Amstel Gold Race.
Reflecting on that year, he said: "I am really happy that I enjoyed those moments, and I was always aware of what I was doing. I was working hard, I sacrificed a lot. For that year, I was almost never home, I was always training and doing recons. There was a lot of work behind it. I realised that I didn't do it for nothing, because that year was one of the best years ever in cycling. It was some good times."
Gilbert is unique in the breadth of his wins, coming in all sorts of formats, from Paris-Tours to Il Lombardia. He explained that he admires the new generation of all-rounders, but one in particular.
"Pogačar is the exception," he said. "I saw Eddy Merckx speaking about him. Eddy has heard a lot of times that the 'new Eddy Merckx' is here, he has heard that every five years. I think only now we can maybe speak about it. He's able to win grand tours, big classics, and win from February to October. Win with big gaps, not by seconds, by minutes.
"In Pogačar I think we will find a rider that you only find fifty years or so. And all the others, OK they're really good riders, but they still have a lot to do before they become really big champions."
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Hello, I'm Cycling Weekly's senior news and features writer. I love road racing first and foremost, but my interests spread beyond that. I like sticking to the tarmac on my own bike, however.
Before joining the team here I wrote for Procycling for almost two years, interviewing riders and writing about racing.
Prior to covering the sport of cycling, I wrote about ecclesiastical matters for the Church Times and politics for Business Insider. I have degrees in history and journalism.
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