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PEZ Chat: BMC’s Philippe Gilbert

Rider Interview: World champion, National champion, multi-Classics and Grand Tour stage winner; Philippe Gilbert has a full palmarès. PEZ-man, Alastair Hamilton, made his yearly trip up the Spanish coast to have a word with the BMC puncheur.

Every year since Philippe Gilbert joined BMC in 2012 we have had a chat with the Belgian race winner, you would think we would have covered everything, but no. Beards, beer, podium girls and socks all came up in conversation, but so did washing dishes and putting up shelves in Monaco. It’s always a pleasure to talk to Philippe and always a laugh with a glint in the eye from a very likable guy.

Philippe Gilbert: Ready to talk

PEZ: What do you do when you’re not racing or training?
Philippe Gilbert:
I don’t have time to do other sports, I spend time with the family and friends. I always have a long season, so I don’t really have time to rest, I don’t stop at the end of July like some riders. I start early and I finish late, so I can look at maybe one month were I can do something, it’s pretty short.

PEZ: Did you go on holiday this year?
No. Just at home, walking.

PEZ: Are the Olympics an aim for you and do you know the parcours?
I don’t know, I haven’t had contact National coach hasn’t contacted me yet. When he contacts me and we will find out if the course suits me or not and we will see which kind of riders he will want there.

PEZ: Is it odd that he hasn’t contacted you yet?
That’s normal, even if he contacted me now there would be a lot of time, it’s not till August, it’s far away.

PEZ: Do you know anything about the Olympic course?
I’ve seen some graphics, someone from the team was there and was sending reports. You have a kind of an idea, but it’s always different, you know. It’s a one day race, so it’s not so hard like if it was a stage in a Grand Tour. You race differently when it’s a one day race.

PEZ: How big are the Olympics for you?
It’s bigger than anything. When you say to people who don’t know about cycling and you say you won Liege, they ask you if it’s a race, they don’t know what it is. If you said you won a stage in the Tour they start to get interested or World championships, but they don’t know the rules; if it’s a ranking or a one day race. But then the Olympics it’s like; if you say you got a medal there, everyone knows the importance of this. The impact is very different, especially for a country like Belgium as we have never had any success there, one medal every ten years maybe. Really we have no success. It’s really big to have a medal, even to have bronze is really big.

PEZ: Would you say that’s the one big thing that is missing from your palmarès?
Yeah, it’s a big ambition. I think if you can finish your career with a podium at the Olympics is something big.

PEZ: Any other races?
Yes, the other Classics I’ve not won yet.

PEZ: Is there one above the others?
No, no, no. I just miss Sanremo, Flanders and Roubaix, so I want to try for these ones. I turn 34 next year so it’s time now.

De Kristallen Fiets 2011
Who’s going to dust the Kristallen Fiets award?

PEZ: So will you ride Roubaix next year?
This I don’t do, for sure. I only have my schedule to Sanremo. I start in Dubai and then I do Almería and Murcia, Vuelta del Sol, Het Nieuwsblad, Le Samyn, Paris-Nice and Sanremo.

PEZ: Paris-Nice will climb Ventoux and have a finish up La Madone.
Yeah, La Modone d’Utelle which is a hard one, especially at the end of the week and also the last stage on Sunday is also very hard, it’s going to be good.

PEZ: Many are saying that if you want to ride well at the Olympics you need to ride the Tour de France.
I’ve ridden the Olympics twice, once with the Tour and once without and both times were good. When you look at the top ten of the Olympics it’s not 100% coming from the Tour, I think it’s 50/50. And another thing is that if you are really motivated you can train very hard also in July and be good and I think this year we have Pologne, or something in July, so that also gives a possibility to be good. Because before, if you had no races it was not easy to get fit, You can train hard, but in the end racing is the best way to get ready for a race… for another race.

WK in Richmond - Roadrace men elite 2015
On the cobbles of the Richmond Worlds

PEZ: What about the Worlds?
It’s impossible to speak about something that will happen in ten or eleven months.

PEZ: What about the Worlds parcours?
Yeah, it’s flat, but every year there is the Tour of Qatar going on and you see a maximum of twenty guys coming together and they are the best finishers, so you can see anything can happen there.

PEZ: What about the heat and the wind?
Yeah and also it’s at the end of the season and everyone is a bit tired from the racing so…

Abu Dhabi Tour 2015 - stage 1
Hot and windy in the desert

PEZ: Do you think it is possible to go to the Olympics and the Worlds fit?
It’s two months or something (between Olympics and Worlds), a lot of time.

PEZ: Would you consider riding the Giro d’Italia?
I don’t know, we still have to look closely at the parcours of the Giro as this is an option, but we haven’t decided anything yet.

PEZ: You won two stages of the Giro last year, so you must have enjoyed it?
Yeah, but in the past I did it a few times and I love this race. It’s the only Grand Tour with is really technical, a lot of small roads, corners, you pass a lot of villages, typical Italian, like with small roads going up and down, it’s something very nervous, you know, and I like this.

Giro d'Italia 2015 stage - 18
Giro d’Iatia 2015 stage 18 attack

PEZ: How did you feel about the Classics, with your crash?
Yes, with the crash and everything, that was a big disappointment, I lost all my chances there and I think I was ready, but… yeah. But now I’m thinking of the next season and it’s all behind me and I don’t want to think any more about this and I want to just focus on the new season.

PEZ: The cobbled Classics seem much more popular than the hilly Classics, would you agree with that?
Yeah they are still big, just the same. But now with Flanders and the new course, with the laps you think it’s more people, but I think it’s the same as years ago. You have all these VIP tents and they film it from the helicopters every time and this makes it look bigger.

PEZ: Obviously this is good for the race and for the sport, but from a sporting point of view and for the riders is the change in Flanders good?
I’ve only ridden it once, 2012, I think that was the first time they changed it. I was not fit, so I didn’t enjoy it, so it’s hard to say. I said in 2012 we have to give it a few years and we have to see the differences and how the riders race the new course and then you can say something about it. But in Liege we don’t have a spot where the race passes four or five times, you just see the final once. Not like in Flanders where they pass the Kwaremont four times.

PEZ: The Ardennes Classics are still the place you want to be?
Well, I am from there, so for sure that makes a difference. Someone who lives in Flanders and does the Tour of Flanders it’s different for him, like a French guy doing the Tour de France it’s for him bigger than anything else, so it also makes a difference where you are from.

PEZ: Do you think tactics might be different next year in the Ardennes Classics without Alejandro Valverde?
Is he not riding? I don’t know his program [Valverde says he is riding Flanders & cobbled Classics. Ed]. That could change, we are not there yet. Valverde is one of the best riders on this kind of course, but we can talk about this the day before Liege and the Friday before Amstel about who is there and who is ready or not. Now I cannot say anything.

PEZ: What do you think of Sagan now he is World champion?
He looks fit, he looks ready. I saw some photos and you can see the muscles and that’s already something. He’s still young and everyone was expecting a lot from him and I think when you see what he did already now, he’s 25 or something. If my son can race one day and he can win this, I would be happy for him.

Stage - 7 ENECO Tour 2015
Climbing the Geraardsbergen in the Eneco Tour

PEZ: Is Liege the main goal?
Yeah sure, but also to be good in Sanremo. Last year I was already good there and I crashed on the last descent and lost all my chances, but yeah, we see.

PEZ: In one of your Giro stage wins you went from far out?
Yeah, but it was a descent though and flat for four or five kilometers, about twenty K’s out.

PEZ: Is it hard to go from far out in the Classics now?
Yes, because every team is complete with a lot riders ready for the Classics, so it’s harder and harder. When you take a picture from the bunch with 20 K’s to go in races like; Flanders, Liege or Lombardy you have at least one team with five guys and in the past you had two or three guys maximum from one team. So now if you have a minimum of five guys from each team and so when you go and have three or four guys chasing you, it’s hard to beat them, except if it’s raining or very technical or it’s different. If the weather is nice or there is a head-wind, then it’s nearly impossible.

PEZ: Do you think the UCI points are a bit unfair on the Classics guys, would like to see the old World Cup return?
The old World Cup was nice because it was a chance for the one day racer to have a success. When you see all the stage races, they can take a lot of points and I think in the past you could still do it with Paris-Nice and Tirreno, but now even these races have become more for GC riders with climbs of over 10K, long TT’s and so. Before Tirreno was only three stages with 2K climbs and so it was still possible to win. Now I cannot compete against the best climbers over 10K climbing. I have won this ranking only once, once second and once third. So I was there, but it’s hard to win this one, coz normally the guy who wins the Tour has already won Paris-Nice or the Tour de Suisse or Dauphine in the same year, so he will have big points already a few times. Every year you see this, the winner of the Tour will have one stage race before and he already had 100 points, plus the stages, plus the Tour. It’s a lot. The teams don’t give so much importance to the ranking, the team ranking is very important, but the individual one, not so much. That’s my feeling.

PEZ: With the announcement of retirement from Cancellara and Boonen, does that make you think of your own end of career?
Yes, but these two guys had a lot of success really quickly, I had to wait a few more years before I got to the top level, this took me five or six years, for them it was in two years before they were in the final of the big Classics and me I needed more time. I guess they had a lot of pressure in their lives and maybe also they won a lot more big races and so maybe they have a different view of the sport, for me I feel as though I only start now.

Giro d'Italia 2015 stage - 12
Winning in the rain of stage 12 in the 2015 Giro d’Italia

PEZ: Recently there were rumors that you would maybe go back to Lotto.
Yeah I saw this thanks to the Belgian media, but it was no big deal, five days later no one spoke about it. But I guess it’s interesting for other teams if you are at a good level and coming to the end of your contract, so I’m not surprised.

PEZ: To finish your career with Lotto (a Belgian team) could be interesting?
I don’t know, at the moment I’m good with BMC and happy to race, we see for later, there is still a lot of time. First of all I want to be good in the races, starting the season well, proposals will come to my manager and at some moment we will have to decide, but this time is not here yet.

PEZ: You’ve not lived in Belgium for a few years?
Almost eight years, but I still have a Belgian passport and still race for the National team.

PEZ: So it would be nice to finish your career with a Belgian team.
Yeah, but I don’t even know when I’m going to stop, so it’s hard to say. If you look at Rebellin, he’s 45 this year and still racing, so I could have ten more years.

PEZ: But Rebellin had a two year holiday.
He had no choice, like a lot of others.

Another BMC training camp in Denia

PEZ: What do you think when you come to a training camp like this?
It’s good, you do everything at one time. You have two ways of doing this: you either meet everyone in October or November and you do all the paper work and all the meetings and so, or you do like we do and I think it’s the best way to get it all done at one time. Maybe it takes a longer time, eleven days or something, but we do everything all kinds of meetings and also the tests with the doctors, the license, the media day, the team presentation, we really optimize the time. This is really good as you travel only once in the winter, and you do everything at one time.

PEZ: Does the start of a new year have you excited to race or is it just business?
No, it’s not business. Sport in general if you take it only for making money, it’s the wrong way, especially cycling as it’s so hard and you have to push yourself to perform. I would not like to race if I was not fit, my goal has always been to be the best I can and I just see that over the years I have to work on my weight because it’s harder to loose weight. When I was 25 I was losing 3 kilos in one week no problem and now I need like one month, so this is the biggest difference I have seen. But for the rest, like training, my body still responds very well.

PEZ: Apart from losing weight what is the hardest part of the off season?
I’m always busy, I always have something to do, I have my family with two kids so there is always a lot of things to do and I have the bike shop still, in Monaco. I can spend more time in the winter there. There is always something to keep you awake. I think if you have nothing to do, thats when you put on weight, just lying there and spending time with friends, eating and drinking, that’s not that good for cyclists.

PEZ: What is your favorite Belgian beer?
Ooof! I don’t really have one, I like a lot of different ones. Chimay is a good one, I like Juplier because it’s from Liege.

PEZ: What about Australian beer?
Fosters, Coopers, yeah they are OK.

PEZ: US beer, Budweiser?
No, not so much, no. I like Amstel of course.

PEZ: When you are home in the winter does your wife ask you to wash the dishes or put up a shelf?
No, we have someone to do that and a dish washing machine.

PEZ: Would you say that beards are now finished in the peloton?
There are still some, even in this team, two or three.

Giro d'Italia 2015 stage - 18
The Giro podium could be the best

PEZ: With all your wins all over the World, where are the best looking podium girls?
Australia is pretty good. Italy and the Giro.

PEZ: What about socks, what is your favorite?
Well, they have to be Pearl Izumi and white, but I have some with the Belgian stripes and I’m the only one to have these ones so it’s easy to recognize me. Black we don’t like and they have to be pretty small, classic.

Stage - 2 ENECO Tour 2015
Those Classic Belgian socks: White and short

It’s good to see Philippe Gilbert is still ‘old school’ when it comes to socks. Good luck for 2016 and maybe wash the dishes occasionally.

Keep tuned to PEZ for more interviews with the stars of the BMC team coming soon.

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