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Ride like the pros: Philippe Gilbert

With the Classics under way, we focus on a Belgian who has won his fair share over the years

22 Mar 2017


Name: Philippe Gilbert
Nickname: Boar of the Ardennes
Age: 34
Lives: Monaco
Rider type: Classics rider
Professional teams: 2003-2008; 2009-2011 Silence-Lotto; 2012-2016 BMC Racing Team; 2017 Quick-Step Floors
Palmares: UCI Road World Championship 2012; Belgian National Road Race Championship 2011, 2016; Amstel Gold 2010, 2011, 2014; Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2011; Flèche Wallonne 2011; Giro di Lombardia 2009, 2010; Classica San Sebastian 2011; Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2006, 2008; Strade Bianche 2011

You can learn a lot from a rider's nickname, and Philippe 'Boar of the Ardennes' Gilbert is no exception given his attacking nature and tenacity in poor weather conditions.

Gilbert has moved to the Quick Step Floors outfit for 2017 after five years with BMC during which he won the UCI Road World Championship in 2012.

But while the kit on his back may have changed, Gilbert's style hasn't. Expect to see him looking to grind out the miles – and grind down the opposition – in this year’s Spring Classics, as he has done consistently over a long and illustrious career.

But what can we learn from the Walloon wonder as he joins a new team for the 2017 season?

1 Study your routes

WHAT? Unlike stage races, where you can make up for mistakes or lost time, there’s no margin for error in a one-day race, so knowing the route is vital.

Having won the Amstel Gold Race in 2010 and 2011, Gilbert went on to win the UCI Road World Championships in 2012 – not least because it followed a similar route to Amstel Gold, finishing on his favourite climb, the Cauberg in the Netherlands.

Gilbert bided his time, attacking on the Cauberg and blowing away his rivals. He used the same tactic in 2014 when he won Amstel Gold for a third time, going one better than the legendary Eddy Merckx.

HOW? Ahead of a sportive or event, be sure to pore over the route. This will ensure you can ride with the confidence of knowing, for example, that the fast descent you're haring down doesn’t stop short at a busy junction – or more importantly, that it does.

Use apps like Strava, or even virtually ride it with Google Street View, and check websites like for up-to-date details of disruptions.

If you live close to the route, you can take the simpler approach of just riding it and taking notes. Either way, you’ll be able to ride it on the day with greater assurance.

2 Warm up properly

WHAT? Gilbert has shown he can consistently handle riding in cold and wet conditions. His secret? A proper warm-up.

‘The idea is to turn your legs quickly, building from 100 to 120rpm,’ he reveals. ‘It’s very demanding at the beginning but is essential for the heart rate and the pure stamina work ahead,’ he adds.

HOW? Gilbert’s rpm target may be beyond most of us but it’s still a good idea to push the cadence in your warm-up.

By raising your pedalling rate in a low gear you’ll get the blood circulating more quickly without significantly depleting vital energy stores.

According to British Cycling, ‘A very important aim of the warm-up is to “switch” your aerobic energy system on prior to starting your main effort.

‘Doing so means you use energy more efficiently and you are less likely to fatigue prematurely.’

By warming up correctly, you’ll also mentally get into the ‘zone’ allowing you to put the hammer down more effectively when the time comes to really get going.

For a race, aim for a 20-minute warm-up to gradually bring up your heart rate. For a longer, less intensive sportive, a short 10-minute warm up will be fine.

3 Get a long stem

WHAT? Gilbert, like many other pros, can get incredibly aero on his bike. One reason for this is his extra long stem – at 130mm, this is a massive jump on the more common 100mm.

This puts Gilbert into a more stretched-out aero position, but while that’s a good way to reduce drag it does require good fitness, flexibility and technical skill.

Gilbert’s training includes a lot of core strength exercises, while his team will assess (and reassess) his bike fit to make sure he can get as low as possible with that stem without suffering any unnecessary strain to his back.

HOW? Fitting a longer stem won’t cost the earth but can drastically alter the handling of your bike. It can also put strain on the lower back, particularly if your core strength or flexibility is poor.

So if you want to go low, work on building the muscles that support your spine and head. You can do this in the gym with simple exercises or by taking up an off-the-bike activity that helps, such as bouldering.

Also consult a professional bike fitter. If getting faster is on top of your to-do list a longer stem is an easy win but don’t make your back pay the price.

4 Improve your pedalling

WHAT? Many pro cyclists love to mix up their cycling activities and Gilbert is no exception.

‘Cyclocross is an old passion,’ he revealed after riding in one recent event. ‘I realised I did not have the technique or the speed and compared to the specialists who were here, I was a very small fish, but it was fun.

‘Normally we cannot participate in this type of competition!’

HOW? Trying a different types of cycling is a great way to improve aspects of your road game.

Cyclocross is great for improving your pedalling technique because off-road cycling demands that you spin perfect circles – loose road surfaces will prove pretty unforgiving if you don’t.

Not only that, it’ll also improve your gear selection and bike handling skills, as well as developing your strength and speed.

With most cyclocross events also taking place in the autumn and winter, it also makes a virtue of rubbish weather, with the rain/sleet/cold all adding to the fun of riding (and carrying) your bike around what’s essentially a short off-road obstacle course.

To get involved, visit for more info.

5 Clear your mind

WHAT? Gilbert is one of a dying breed of racers who rides mostly on feel and gauges his chances by reading the degree of pain on his rivals’ faces.

In an interview in 2010, Gilbert explained just how old-school he is. ‘It’s true that I train mostly by feeling. In the team, we have PowerTap but I don’t use it.

‘I don’t even have a heart-rate monitor, but I always know where I am,’ he revealed, before adding, ‘I never analyse my training with the computer or graphics. I have not got a clue about how many watts I produce in a climb.’

HOW? There is something liberating about going out on your bike sans Garmin or power meter. For some it feels like a wasted ride, devoid of any structure, but if you know your body well you can still benefit.

Training with data is great – it gives us clear indications of how we’re performing and where we can improve – but don’t be afraid to trust your body and ride data-free.

It’ll give you more time to look up and enjoy the environment, too, and enjoyment is a powerful motivator that will get you out on the bike more often and for longer.

6 Fuel yourself properly

WHAT? As a pro, Gilbert has all his meals and nutrition analysed. While at BMC Racing Team his nutritionist Judith Haudum knew how important it was to use the right protein at the right time to get the best out of Gilbert and his team-mates.

‘If we wanted the protein to enter the riders’ systems quickly, we would go for whey because it is readily absorbed,’ she reveals.

‘However, if they want a sustained protein for longer recovery, we’d look elsewhere – casein protein, for example. It’s absorbed more slowly, so it’s good not only during the day but also at night when riders are asleep.’

HOW? We can’t all have a top nutritionist to plan our dietary needs but that doesn’t mean you can’t be on top of what you shovel down your throat.

A whey protein supplement immediately after a ride will aid speedy muscle recovery – try Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder (908g for £22.49).

For overnight recovery, get some casein protein in before shut-eye, such as Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Casein Protein Powder (450g for £19.49, both from

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