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Philippe Gilbert: 'People exaggerate how tough Roubaix is'

Joe Robinson
16 Jan 2018

The Belgian dreams of Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix before retirement

In his quest to win all five Monuments, Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) burst the bubble surrounding Paris-Roubaix, commenting that the race is not as hard as people believe.

The Belgian announced that he would return to the cobbled classic after an 11-year hiatus in what he calls his 'strive for five', a dream of becoming the fourth rider ever to win all five Monument races.

Standing in his way are Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix. The latter many would argue is the bigger challenge for Gilbert considering his absence and the attritional nature of the race, yet Gilbert himself begs to differ.

'I think we make a fuss about Paris-Roubaix but I don't think it is that bad. You finish empty at every Classic and I think sometimes people exaggerate about how tough Roubaix is,' Gilbert said.

'With Milan-San Remo, it is not easy to make something happen. Peter Sagan was the strongest rider last year but still lost.

'If you are the strongest at Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders, you usually win but that's not the case in San Remo.'

A dominant victory at the Tour of Flanders in 2017 acted as the catalyst for these big dreams. The climbers' Classics Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Il Lombardia were already banked and now the Wallonne has changed his riding style and focus to complete the set.

'When you look at the profile of Roubaix, there are many opportunities. So I have had to adapt myself from being a climber to now an expert for the flat with more power, keeping my weight the same.

'But it also important to recon the race,'

Looking back at his win in Flanders last year, he said, 'I went out and recced the climbs before I won Flanders. The guys fighting to win the Tour de France will spend all of June riding the Tour route, so I need to spend time looking at the cobbles to be successful.'

Gilbert may have his ambitions of winning Roubaix and San Remo but so do his teammates. Quick-Step Floors have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the Monuments, with more than one rider always capable of taking the victory.

Niki Terpstra is a former winner at Roubaix while Zdenek Stybar has finished second twice. Meanwhile at San Remo, Julian Alaphilippe finished third in 2017 and its seems a matter of when rather than if Fernando Gaviria will win La Primavera.

This competition may seem unwelcome for a rider trying to win two of cycling's biggest races but for Gilbert, his talented colleagues act as the perfect gauge.

'With the press I may be the main guy but on the bike it is completely different. You have to battle to fight the team and yourself, and we always push ourselves.

'If you are the best rider at Quick-Step, you will definitely have a chance at winning the race.'

Gilbert was undoubtedly the strongest Quick-Step rider at Flanders last year, soloing to victory after attacking with 55km still to go. However, rival and former teammate Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) did not believe Gilbert was not the strongest in the race.

If it was not for a crash, Van Avermaet backs himself to have caught Gilbert and eventually won the race.

When asked his about Van Avermaet's opinion, Gilbert gave a simple response.

'Honestly, I don't care what he says because the winner is always right.'