Interview: Philippe Gilbert Talks 2015
Rider Interview: World and National champion, Classics winner, Grand Tour stage winner and always a man to watch in just about any race. Our man in Spain, Alastair Hamilton, caught up with Philippe Gilbert at BMC’s pre-Christmas training camp to get his opinions on many subjects.
At this time of year Philippe Gilbert will be found in the Hotel La Sella golf resort in Denia, Spain. The BMC team have been taking over this rather nice hotel complex for a few years and it’s always a pleasure to receive an invitation to their media days. The team members have changed over the years, but the hotel and Philippe’s openness and sense of humour remain the same.
PEZ: It’s the start of a new season, has it become a bit repetitive?
No, it’s always the same but it’s nice. You stop the season and have a break and you know you come back to camp. With BMC it’s always the same hotel, but it’s a nice country, Spain, for the winter training. I’m happy to be here to meet new people, new staff, it’s important for the relationship in the next season.
PEZ: Is next season much the same as last season, do you know your calendar?
It’s pretty much the same. I don’t know my full calendar, but I start in Dubai, next it’s Qatar the next day, so it’s going to be a big block for the first races, but that’s nice. I’ve never been to Dubai, but I’ve got friends living there and they tell me it’s a nice country. It will be good to visit.
PEZ: With the Tour de France coming to Belgium and Huy, do you think you might ride?
When I saw this at the Tour presentation, that was the first thing I was thinking; I would like to be there and having my chance in that nice final. I’ve done the Tour six or seven times and it’s always a nice race.
PEZ: What do you think of Alejandro Valverde; you have had many battles with Valverde?
No, not really because he never wants to attack, he is always defending and wanting to ride with the others. He is always there; he’s fast and hard to beat.
PEZ: Do you think you will miss Samuel Sanchez next season?
Yeah, because we did a lot of races together, it was always nice, we were always friendly, we were good on the bike, really relaxed and always there at the right moment. I always enjoyed the moment with Samu and I am thankful to him and he knows it, because we still have some contact. But it’s like this, cycling is not in the best position with financial problems and so on and we also have a lot of riders, we cannot have everyone in the same team.
PEZ: Do you think this BMC team is better than last year’s?
It’s hard to say. Now maybe we have less big names, but sometimes you get more from the riders the public don’t know who really give everything. They know they can’t win so they give everything; they are very good teammates and very good support. We will see, but I am confident. We have a lot of young guys also so they bring a new mentality, a new spirit, which is also nice.
PEZ: Which of the young guys would you say are going to be good?
It’s hard to say, we’ve only spent a few days together. Maybe after the next camp I will be able to say who is good. But it’s very hard to say now. From last year; Zabel I raced with him a lot, he is really good. He just turned 21; yeah he’s really good.
PEZ: Do you think he suffers from the pressure of having a successful father?
No, he knows what he wants and he knows that you have to work in cycling to become stronger and I started also like this when I was younger. I rode for riders like Baden Cooke, Bradley McGee and some other riders and this made me stronger and I got a lot of experience from this.
PEZ: Do you still have the young man’s fire in the belly?
No, I still enjoy it; I can still play on the bike with them. When it’s the time for training and racing I still really enjoy it.
PEZ: What is your main aim for next season?
I would like to do well in Sanremo, now that they have fixed the parcours and it’s back on the old one, the one I like the most.
PEZ: Why do you like it more?
Because it’s easier and because it’s easier we go faster, but then it’s harder because we go faster, so… When you have climbs everyone is scared of those climbs, they are all breaking. I remember one year we had twelve guys in the break away with nine minutes, they lost two guys and they had 100 K’s to go and still had six minutes or something. We really had to chase them full-gas, this made a big decision behind, a big difference in the bunch. But when they had this Le Mànie, it was too easy, because you just go fast on the climb and take five minutes back on the break away and then there were still three guys together and it’s even easier to come back on three guys. It’s hard to understand if you are not on the bike.
PEZ: So a faster race is harder?
Yeah, yeah. Like Paris-Tours also, it’s a special race, its not very hard, but it is hard because of the speed.
PEZ: Do you think the old/new course could have a solo winner?
It’s possible, but that depends on the wind. I’m training there a lot and when it’s head wind on the Poggio it’s very hard to go fast on this climb. But you say this, but then you have Eddy Merckx who won it there seven times.
PEZ: It’s not far from where you live?
No, 40 K’s. I know it quite well, all the coffee stops, everything.
PEZ: Will you be going back to the cobbles next year?
No, I had an interview where I said I would like to go again there, but I never spoke about 2015, I said one day I will go and everyone took it that I was saying that it would be next year. But apparently they could not translate what I said which was a big mistake from some people. For sure I would like to go again, but I’m not finishing my career next year, so…
PEZ: Was it an advantage at the Ardennes to not have ridden the Cobbled Classics?
Yes because I trained very hard and I went to Pais Basque, which is also a nice race, so yeah.
PEZ: To ride the Cobbled Classics you need to have the experience on those roads, so would you switch completely to the cobbles and forget the Ardennes?
I think it’s good like this; do first all the explosive races, because to win Lombardy, Liege and Amstel you need a lot of explosivity in the legs and that’s one of the first things you lose with age and you don’t need this in Flanders, well less of this in Flanders and Roubaix. So maybe when I start losing this, I can go to those races and then I don’t know if I go again to the Ardennes. Like I said; if you go very hard in the cobbled races I don’t know if you can go again the next weekend in Amstel and then the next weekend in Liege. You can always do it, but I don’t know if you can do it for the win.
PEZ: Would you say you had a good 2014 season?
Yeah, yeah it was a good season. I was there almost the whole season; I was already good in Qatar and then finishing really strong in Beijing also.
PEZ: Was that you making a statement?
No, I don’t race to show something, I race for myself and my sponsors of course and I think they were happy as I finished top rider in the team in the World rankings and also with seven wins it’s not so bad.
PEZ: For the final part of the season and the Worlds, have you seen the parcourse?
I saw the graphic, but it’s different than seeing the real roads. The coach, Carlo Bomans, will go there, film it and he can tell me his opinion, also he knows what I like and he can tell me if it is for me or not and then I will know if I am going there with a lot of ambition or less ambition, so we see. For me the Worlds are always a big race and a big goal, so for sure I will go there with a nice training program before to be really good on the big day.
PEZ: Greg (Van Avermaet) said it suited both of you.
I can’t speak for him, but for me I’m good on pretty much every course, except when it’s really flat, like in Copenhagen I had no ambition there. I’m normally good when it’s laps and because it’s something special also.
PEZ: At the last Worlds in Ponferrada you did a lot of work for Greg Van Avermaet, was that the plan or did that just happen?
We decided that if it came to a sprint that maybe he would be faster, but that wasn’t the case. So we did what we decided the day before, but that’s the thing with sport, you never know what will happen, but when you stick to the plan it’s also important.
PEZ: Was it a lost opportunity for you?
No, it was for second place anyway, I don’t care about a medal. Only the title counts.
PEZ: Would you ride la Vuelta for preparation?
I don’t think so because it’s better to go to Quebec and Montreal because again they are races on circuits, pretty much the same, shorter, but the same system. Then you can just stay there for two weeks between, no jet lag or nothing. It would be nice if someone organized a race the week before.
PEZ: On the same circuit.
Oh yeah. I don’t know if the state would like this though. The people having the roads closed for two weekends. Although they are closed for the TTT.
PEZ: What do you think of the changes for the teams and races that are being talked about for 2017?
I think if you have less riders in the team then a lot of riders will have to quit cycling, because you do this it doesn’t mean you will have more sponsors coming in. This will not change anything except that there will be a lot more people without work. So I don’t think it is a good change. And about the length of the races, I don’t know if this will change anything. Why should you shorten the Giro and the Vuelta and not the Tour de France, I don’t know, it’s a big subject.
PEZ: What do you think of the suggestion that there are more crashes due to riders taking tranquilizers?
I don’t think so. For me there are two or three things that can explain this; first you have more and more TV coverage, before there were always a lot of crashes but they didn’t film it. There was maybe one camera in front and one behind, now you have five or six motorbike cameras and two or three helicopters and TV now has the chance of all the images from all over the race. So we have better TV coverage, that’s the first reason. Then the pressures are different, because every team are pushing for their riders to always be in the first positions to win the race and to try something. So you can explain the reasons for the crashes and I don’t think, maybe some people use the things you say, but I don’t think that’s the big reason.
PEZ: Do you think Peter Sagan will improve due to his move to Tinkoff-Saxo?
This is always possible, but he cannot be so much better…I hope not. He is already three years at pretty much maximum power. Was really fast getting to the top level, I don’t know if you can be much better than that. I don’t know where he will race next year, but I guess the Green jersey will be one of the main goals for him, not for me.
PEZ: Do you think it will be a problem that Tinkoff-Saxo will have two riders going for two jerseys in the Tour, it usually doesn’t work?
It’s not my problem, it’s their problem.
PEZ: Do you have an opinion on the Astana case?
It’s hard to say something because again I don’t have access to what has been happening I just see what the media say and I don’t know if that is everything. It’s hard to say anything when you are not inside the problem. For me it’s like we are all part of cycling and we are under the law of the UCI and if they decide they have the right to race. They sanction some riders and some not, but there is always a reason and I respect the decision.
PEZ: Will you be trying to win all the races in the Ardennes or will you go for one over the other?
I always have more success in Amstel, but my dream is more Liege, so if I can win in Liege it’s better for me. The years are never the same, maybe next year we will see a rider like Bardet win, there could be someone else who is flying at that moment of the season. It’s very hard to say in December who will be good in the last week of April.
PEZ: Can you explain why you are more successful in Amstel than Liege?
Because of the Cauberg of course. This is the climb I like the most from all over the World, so because of this, if the finish was still in Maastricht, like in 1995, I wouldn’t have won three Amstel’s. Now it’s always around the Cauberg so it’s easier for me.
PEZ: Why is the Cauberg so special for you?
Because it’s a climb that you can take on the big chain ring with big power and at high speed also and its short at 700 meters, so it’s perfect for my characteristics.
PEZ: How much power?
Enough, more than the others, I think.
PEZ: Do you know the numbers?
No, for me when I look at an image of how I can make a gap this is nicer than seeing a graph.
PEZ: But you use an SRM?
Yeah, like everyone, I’m sponsored by SRM.
PEZ: But do you run your life by it, or do you go by the feelings of your body?
Yeah sure, but in the final you don’t have time to see.
PEZ: Chris Froome does.
Yeah he rides like this (head down), but its good when he goes on the street, no one recognizes him because they have only ever seen his helmet. He has a very stylish position. We have fun about this with him when we are training; he knows it and can laugh about it.
PEZ: Do you train with him a lot?
No, because he is always at training camps.
PEZ: Do you miss Thor Hushovd?
Yeah, but I still see him, he has come riding with us a few times. He’s a really good friend, but of course it was better to train with him every day.
PEZ: Last year I asked you about beards, your still not doing it?
PEZ: But there are even more in the peloton and now the big beards.
Yes there are a lot of guys, like Craven.
PEZ: What about the full arm tattoo?
That’s the new fashion in cycling. Of course when guys like Boonen do this; all the young ones want to do this also.
PEZ: Do you think the whole problem started with black socks? And from there cycling has just gone down?
PEZ: You let your legs do the talking, you don’t need a fashion?
My way of racing, attacking. If people copy it that would be nice for the public. I like when riders go on the attack, try things. I was watching the Tour and I like the way Sagan was racing, he gets a lot of criticism because he attacks too much and maybe lost stages there, but that’s what people like; when you just go on the attack, it’s spectacular, this makes the racing interesting.
PEZ: So is it better to be remembered as an attacking rider or someone who has won a lot of races?
OK, maybe I haven’t won a lot, but they are big races, so for me its very important, I’ve always been aggressive in my way of racing and I really like winning a race like this, attacking.
PEZ: Someone like Jens Voigt is remembered for his attacking, but has not won many races.
No, he talks a lot and makes the faces, but he makes money with this, which is good for him.
PEZ: But it’s better to be remembered as a winner?
So again Philippe Gilbert has given us his thoughts on many subjects, funny and serious, but when it comes to attacking in the finalé there’s no laughing. Good luck in 2015.