Superstar Philippe Gilbert Gets PEZ’d!
During the press days at the BMC training camp in Denia on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, there was a chance to interview some of the World’s top cyclists. Tour winner, World Champions and BMC’s new Classic winner for 2012; Philippe Gilbert. This was the first time we had spoken, so I didn’t know what to expect. It was a pleasant surprise to find a normal, keen, enthusiastic, young cyclist…
After his phenomenal 2011 season of wins in Liege, Amstel, Flиche, San Sebastiбn etc. the big question had to be: can he do better?
PEZ: You had a great 2011, how can you better it in 2012?
Philippe Gilbert: I don’t know, it will be difficult I think. Yea, I’m the first to know that I had a great season last year. I have ambition for the one day races. I’ll be at my top level for the weekend of Liege-Bastogne-Liege and try to win again one of those races of the Ardennes week. Also for Milan-San Remo and Flanders I will be very motivated for these, and then of course I have a big challenge to be a partner of Cadel Evans in the next Tour de France. For me it’s a big ambition because I will learn a lot being next to him, and to help him as far as I can.
PEZ: It’s a new team, what are your first impressions?
Philippe: I’m happy because of, first of all the material. The BMC bikes are very good and I had good feeling very quickly on the bike. After only one week I was fine with the bike. This wasn’t the case the last time I changed bike, so I have already won something compared the last transfer. For the rest; I am happy with the support we have, also we don’t feel the pressure. BMC invests a lot in cycling, but they don’t push for the results; I think it will come by the normal way. We are all motivated. We don’t need pressure from the management and they don’t give us a lot of pressure.
PEZ: How do you perceive the confidence of Cadel Evans?
Philippe: He is very focused. When I’ve seen him training, (we have done a few sessions together in the last two weeks) and he is very focused. I don’t know if he is confident or not, but he is training well.
Gilbert with Evans at the 2012 Tour de France presentation.
PEZ: Do you think he can defend his Tour de France title this year?
Philippe: I hope for him. When I looked at the par cours (the course) there is a lot of time trials. So, it is good for him, but also for riders like Wiggins, the time trial specialists. So I think the next winner of the Tour will be one of those riders who can ride on a TT bike and not a climber.
What do you thing about Cadel Evans working for you in the Classics?
Philippe: I think we have a very good team for every race. We can go to the start of many races with ambition. We know that we are not the only team with ambition, so we will do our best to try and win the nicest races of the season. We just have to try! But we won’t say that we are going to win this, this, this…We will just try to give our best.
PEZ: Have you been testing out a time trial bike?
Philippe: Yes, this is the first time I have used a TT bike so much! I feel so good on this new bike and also today I did the last hour on the TT bike. So already I feel good. In the past I always had problems with the position, now I’m fine and I feel very good on the bike. I can do a lot of kilometres on this bike.
PEZ: Do you think that you can make a difference on the Poggio and Cipressa in Milan-San Remo?
Philippe: I don’t know, I think it’s been 20 years now since Colombo won from the Poggio. So, it’s a long time ago and I think cycling is different now with big, big teams that are very strong. So it’s difficult to make a difference, but we can try and maybe we can do it, but it will be very hard.
Gilbert might be quiet about his chances, but he has made a name for himself of making last hills his springboard to victory.
PEZ: Now that BMC also has Hushovd as a second option, would the team try to eliminate riders like Cavendish?
Philippe: Yea, maybe, I don’t know. If you look at past years there has always been a selection with the crashes and then everyone thinks the sprinters are not up here. Then they still win the race, so…I hope I find a good solution.
PEZ: The next big Classic will be the Tour of Flanders, do you think the new finishing circuit will suit you and have you seen it?
Philippe: I know it, but I will go the week before to see it because I don’t need to see it earlier. I know the roads in Belgium change a lot. If I go tomorrow to see the circuit it will be completely different from the week of Flanders. So it’s important to go at the last moment to the circuit and see the roads, but I know it will be hard in the final.
PEZ: Will it suit you more?
Philippe: I think there will be maybe five, six, seven riders with a big chance to win.
PEZ: You rode in the same team as Cadel Evans some years ago; do you think he has changed since then, more confident, more focused?
Philippe: He’s feeling good in this team and he can just focus on his job, which is riding a bike. He has no stress from extra things. He can focus on training and testing position and everything. He goes to the altitude training camps and he will look at the Tour stages and everything. He is really focused, yea.
PEZ: As a person do you think he has changed?
Philippe: I’ve been here with him for two weeks, but I see him for maybe 5 minutes every day and at dinner, it’s not easy. We are here with around 60 people and it’s not easy to see everyone. I will tell you after some of the one week races.
PEZ: Obviously you have ambitions for the Classics, but you will be riding the Tour de France. What will be your role in the team there?
Philippe: This year will be a big season because I have the Classics and I have the Tour, then I have the Olympics, La Vuelta and the Worlds. So it’s going to be a long season. I hope I will be on a level to do these challenges. Regarding the Tour I will be there first to help Cadel and then maybe if I can have a chance on some stages I can take it, but first of all it’s to help Cadel.
You know you’ve had a great year when…you have a book about it before the year is even over.
PEZ: The Green Jersey maybe?
Philippe: No, no, no, no…that was a bad experience last year, in the last week I lost all my chances because of this jersey. Maybe it’s a bad idea for me to do that.
PEZ: What about the Olympics?
Philippe: It’s a big, big race and a big target because I think it’s above everything in our sport because it’s the Olympics. It’s so big and you have medals there and everything.
PEZ: You would put an Olympics above a World championship?
Philippe: Yes, it’s different, you don’t have a jersey, but it is something different and after your career you can say: “I have an Olympic medal.” It’s something important.
PEZ: Are you looking forward to the Worlds as the circuit should suit you and it’s near your home?
Philippe: Yes also. It’s hard for me this season because it’s going to be long and I have a lot of challenges, but yes its good.
PEZ: What did you think when you saw Alejandro Valverde win at the Tour Down Under?
Philippe: I was surprised he won so early. I know Simon Gerrans, and I knew he had a high level already now. So, I know to beat him you would need a good level. That means that Valverde is maybe not on the top of his condition, but already good and I will see. It’s difficult say something because there was a short stage of 150 kilometres. A Classic is 250 – 260, so it’s completely different. I’m sure that Valverde will be there. For me it will not be a surprise to see him in the final.
It’s likely that Gilbert will have a more competitive sprint on his hands in Liege if Valverde makes the selection.
PEZ: Do you have aspirations for a Grand Tour win, maybe a Vuelta or a Giro if they were not too high?
Philippe: I don’t know. This thing started when Eddy Merckx said I can win the Tour. It’s bad because it gives me a lot of pressure and a lot of questions. For me I’m focused on the one day races. I like them and I’m a great fan of these races. I don’t feel that I have to go to a big tour. I also know it would be very difficult for me.
PEZ: Valverde won the Vuelta a couple of years ago?
Philippe: Yea I know, but that was La Vuelta, not the Tour! For the Spanish it’s very important. If a Belgian rider won La Vuelta it’s not so important. I don’t know, it’s hard to say.
PEZ: How do you feel when someone like Eddy Merckx says something like that?
Philippe: It’s a compliment, that’s the way I take it. I was surprised that he said this because I’ve never tried to do well in a Grand Tour. I’ve never worked for this, so it’s very hard for me to give an answer to this.
PEZ: It sounds Like Merckx wants riders to be like he was, winning Classics and Tours and everything. He said that Boasson Hagen only needs to lose some weight he would be up there. Do you think times have changed too much for that?
Philippe: It would be easier if Contador wins Liege and then he would win everything! He has already won everything, so if he wins Liege we have this rider.
PEZ: Merckx won Giro, Tour Vuelta, Classics, 6 Days. I don’t think he rode cyclo-cross?
Philippe: Maybe he would have won that too!
PEZ: Have you ever thought of riding Paris-Roubaix?
Philippe: I will do it, but later because I’m on this programme with Flanders, Amstel, Fleche and Liege, so I need to skip Roubaix. If I do Roubaix, it would be too much and I would lose something for Liege.
PEZ: How much do you weigh?
Philippe: I don’t know. I think I’m 72 kilo, something like this.
PEZ: Would you give Thor Hushovd the chance to win a spring Classic if your legs were not feeling good?
Philippe: Yea, for sure! The thing is, especially for Roubaix, that I won’t be there. I hope he can win this race; the team has Ballan, Hincapie, Burghardt and Quinziato also. If we are in the same race, then it will be easier when we can ride together. It’s always easier if you have two or three guys in the final. It’s always hard to fight against all the teams like it was in the past with Quick-Step, who might have four or five riders together. It was almost impossible to beat them. I hope we can be in this situation.
So, so many options on BMC in 2012.
PEZ: You seem very relaxed. You don’t know your weight, which is not normal for a cyclist, you like a drink of beer. Do you ever get frustrated and angry and how do you show it because you always seem at ease?
Philippe: No, I’m alright. I like my job, and it’s more a passion than a job. I always dreamt of being a professional, to ride these races and win these races. Now I do it, so why would I have pressure or stress, I don’t know. For me it’s just a dream and I like this. I live for the good moments.
PEZ: You hear of riders never drinking alcohol and not even going to bed with their girlfriend for the whole season.
Philippe: Oh yea! That’s freaky! Bad for them, they don’t know what they are doing.
Gilbert and his wife enjoy another Kristallen Fiets.
PEZ: What is your favourite Belgian beer?
Philippe: I like Jupiler because it’s from Liege and Leffe for instance, Leffe Blonde.
PEZ: At the end of last season you nearly went to Quick-Step’
Philippe: Yes, I had a lot of contact with them also. My last teams were BMC or Quick-Step. I made the final choice to go for BMC. Why? Well in the end it was a personal feeling, and I think here I will have less pressure. I’m not in a Belgian team, I’m with great riders so I am not alone with the pressure on my shoulders. I feel very good here.
PEZ: Would it have been a problem to have been in the same team as Tom Boonen?
Philippe: If we had been in the same team we would have raced maybe every 10th race together. I’ve never had any problems with Tom.
PEZ: What is your relationship like with Greg Van Avermaert? He won’t get much of a chance in the Spring Classics.
Philippe: It’s good. I saw he signed a contract for two more years, so that’s nice. I’m sure we will have a good team with him for the Classics. Also, everyone knows their job in the team.
PEZ: What did you think of the World championships in Denmark?
Philippe: Just fast, nothing special. Nothing to do, too easy. I was surprised actually by the fans. I didn’t know that cyling was so important there. I had never been before. When I was training I could see everyone was supporting cycling. I think they love cycling there. Also the press, when they came for interviews, they asked normal questions, they knew about cycling. They didn’t ask things like “why do you have a jersey like this?” When you go to some countries, they don’t know anything about cycling. Like when the guys went to China they had questions from the journalists there that knew nothing about cycling, but not in Denmark. I’m not riding the Giro, so I won’t be back in Denmark this year.
Gilbert will be hoping for a different post-Worlds interview next fall.
Philippe: Trиs bon!
And that was our audience with the King of the Classics over. Philippe is a nice guy and a totally normal person….but what a rider!