At thirty years old Philippe Gilbert is considered one of the best professional cyclists in the peloton.
In 2011 the classic and one day specialist won the ‘Golden Bicycle’ award for the best performance over the year – the same year he was crowned champion of the UCI’s World tour championship.
In Monaco Euronews got the chance to catch up with the current world road race champion, who joined high-flying Swiss-based team BMC at the start of the season.
Euronews: You are known as a puncher in the cycling world, where does this quality to attack come from?
GILBERT: ‘‘I would say my speciality is the one day races – but it’s true I am a puncher, I love the final stretches that are difficult and very steep – technical finishes…and that’s where I have success and can give the best of myself.’‘
Euronews: You are also one of the classic specialists – the Ardennes and Flanders. What’s your secret?
GILBERT: ‘‘Well I mean the secret is to have great endurance, have a good knowledge of the race and experience. They are races I’ve competed in since I was young, I just finished my tenth year as a pro so I have ridden all the classics at least seven or eight times and for most I have competed at the finish line almost every time, so I have a lot of experience. Now I have a very strong team behind me that is dedicated to my cause and that makes a difference. When you factor in all these points you are close to winning.’‘
2011 was a fantastic year for Gilbert. He won the Amstel Gold Race, the Flèche Wallonne and the Liège–Bastogne–Liège to become only the second rider to win the three Ardennes classics in a single year. He also won the Belgian road race and time trial titles.
GILBERT: ‘‘2011 remains for me my best year in terms of success. I definitely want to repeat those exploits in the future but I think I set the bar very high. In modern-day cycling it’s rare to do that, to win five different classics out of the year’s 18 races. So I mean it was an extraordinary feat for one year, not to mention wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France and ending the season as world number 1. I had a lot of success and I think that for me and my supporters it was a big, big year.’‘
Euronews: And this is what inspired you in 2012, notably for the world championships?
GILBERT: ‘‘I would have preferred to start this year with the same performance but it wasn’t the case for various reasons. I did however finish the year with a similar level of success with the Tour of Spain and the World Championships in Valkenburg, so I want to say that I was back to my 2011 best and I got the success that goes with that level of performance, so I was happy.’‘
With a perfect knowledge of the world championship course and in particular the final Cauberg climb, Gilbert made a dramatic attack leaving in his wake his title rivals Nibali, Boonen, Boasson Hagen and Valverde. It was a long-awaited victory for Gilbert who predicts more adventures with his BMC team in 2013.
Gilbert said: ‘‘In two weeks we have a team meeting with all the riders. We will discuss the program of the new season and I hope also to see the presentation of the next Tour de France. That will happen on October 24 in Paris, so I will wait to see the course and see if it inspires me or not. Then we will see if I will participate in the 2013 Tour de France.’‘
Euronews: What is your take on USADA’s doping allegations against Lance Armstrong ?
GILBERT: ‘‘My opinion on the case is that Armstrong and his accomplices are impressive in how they were able to organise their lives, colluding, the complicity of it. I am fortunate to be a rider of the new generation. I have not been affect too much by this well organised system or gang.
‘‘I have not suffered too much as a result because I turned pro in 2003 and Armstrong quit it in 2005. I competed in my first Tour de France in 2005 when he won his seventh, I mean I was very young I had no claim to the overall title or anything, I was never his rival.
‘‘For sure we started the same race but he never caused me harm. It’s unfortunate what is happening and it is unfortunate that it didn’t come out in the press earlier… if there were so many people who knew about it it’s a shame it didn’t come out earlier and then it could have been sorted out earlier.’‘
Euronews: Why do you think cycling is so tainted by doping?
GILBERT: ‘‘I mean that can be explained by different things, but I think it is the only sport which has taken its own destiny in it’s hands, we the riders pay the controls ourselves, we put into place the biological passport, all riders of my generation were for it in order to get us out of this situation. So you pay 3% of the yearly profits towards these funds, plus all teams pay an annual fee for anti-doping, I mean we all contribute to this sport, there’s a lot of willingness on behalf of the younger generation like mine. But obviously when a sport puts into place these kind of controls you will get positive cases.
‘‘There are many sports where there are very few controls or they are notified beforehand so there is a complicity to avoid positive cases and when there are the positive results they are often covered up. We are trying to solve this problem as quickly as possible and to weed out the cheaters. I think a lot of people often point the finger at us because of that, but it’s not just our sport with a doping problem. If other sports had the same level of testing I think there would be a lot of surprises.’‘