Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) showed that his form is right on target for the Tour of Flanders during last Sunday's Brabantse Pijl. Gilbert openly claimed that if it wasn't for Carlos Barredo's crash, which brought him down as well, he would have been part of the winning attack with eventual winner Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) in the race.
Add to that a string of good results, including wins in the Belgian season opener, Het Volk and Le Samyn as well as a third place at Milano-Sanremo, and he is among the hot favourites for the Tour of Flanders.
"Sunday's race [the Brabantse Pijl] was first and foremost meant as a tough training ride in preparation for the Ronde," he said. "So I wasn't disappointed with my second place there. I was on the podium, just like in almost all of the races I have ridden [this year].
"It is a sign that my condition is better than good," he added. "Now it is important that I take good care of myself over the next week."
Gilbert has opted not to take part in the Driedaagse van De Panne, instead he will do a reconnaissance of the Tour of Flanders route on Wednesday, weather permitting. "Getting sick the week of the Ronde is the biggest danger there is," he said. "I still can't ride up the climbs blind folded. The Flemish can do that, but I am a Waal [Wallonian]. I do know the critical places."
Gilbert signaled that even the Koppenberg climb doesn't faze him. "It is part of the show and every rider has to ride over it," he said.
Unlike a number of other Flanders favourites, who are able to rely on strong team support, Gilbert is hopeful of having at least one or two teammates at his disposal as the race nears the crucial stages.
"[Française des Jeux] are unable to take the race by the horns, like CSC or Cofidis. CSC has the strongest team and a great team spirit," he said. "If there are four CSC guys in the finale, then it is going to be tough.
"But La Française is stronger this year than it was last year. Frédéric Guesdon dropped me off at the Poggio in an ideal way during Milano-Sanremo. In Flanders I will be relying on Guesdon for the same."
Gilbert will be one of the most watched riders in the peloton, which he admits is the down side of his success. "My first priority is to stay away from crashes and punctures," he said. "Then I will automatically be in the finale."