Philippe Gilbert: If teams are reduced beyond six riders let’s just race as individuals

The Belgian speaks on the decision to reduce squad numbers for Milan - San Remo, where he will try and win his fifth different Monument

Philippe Gilbert has said if squads are reduced beyond the six-riders being implemented at next week’s Milan – San Remo, the peloton might as well race as individuals.

The Belgian was speaking ahead of a potentially career-defining week in Italy, where he will race Strade Bianche and Milano-Torino in the build-up to Milan – San Remo, where he will try and claim his fifth different Monument victory.

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“This choice is very strange and it’s going to be very difficult because one rider fewer is really important,” Gilbert said on the video call, sitting in his team bus to escape the stifling heat of Siena. “We already went from eight to seven riders in the big Classics and it was a big change, and now going from seven to six…it’s really the limit for this way of racing.

“I think the next step is ‘ok, let’s become an individual sport and we stop with teams’ because with fewer than six I don’t think there’s any reason to have a team anymore. I think the next step is we stop the system we have now and just have individuals.”

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RCS Sport, organiser of Milan-San Remo, made a last-minute application to the UCI to allow two additional smaller teams to race the 2020 edition, with the governing body approving the request but only if every other team dropped a rider to reduce the size of the peloton.

Italian ProTeams Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec and Bardiani CSF Faizanè have now been invited to the race, as they join four other Wild Card teams, two ProTeams who qualified by ranking and all 19 WorldTour outfits, making 27 squads of six riders each in total.

More teams vying for glory could complicate proceedings for Gilbert and Lotto-Soudal, while the reduction to six could see his rivals have fewer domestiques to bring him back should he look to win from a long-range attack.

38-year-old Gilbert is contracted with the Belgian team until the end of 2022, meaning he will have two more shots at completing his Monument set if things don’t go to plan this year. He says that when the racing calendar was put on hold as Europe was gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, getting back in the peloton was the last thing on his mind.

“When all this happened, we weren’t disappointed, it was another level [of concern],” Gilbert said of his reaction when the calendar was postponed. “We were talking about the health of people, racing was secondary, it wasn’t as important as before. We were just hoping for some better news [about the pandemic] but now we’re back in and these two races [before Milan – San Remo] are important, having competition in the legs is important.

“We’ve been doing a lot of training and my condition is much better than at the start of the season, I think it’s the same feeling for everyone. After the winter it’s never the same, now everyone is fit, everyone is skinny. I will expect a high level of racing.”