Philippe Gilbert signed a one year deal to ride with Quickstep for 2017. Question is, how fast can he still ride?
The Belgian says he’s ready to win again after a bad season in his final year at BMC but we’re not convinced he’ll get back to podiumville.
“My goal is always to win a big classic,” said Gilbert. “I’ve done that several years. Last year I wasn’t able because I broke my finger at a bad moment and I lost my chance. My last big win was Amstel in 2014 and in 2015 and 2016 I didn’t win a big Monument. Now it’s time to win again.”
A finger injury sustained in a fight with two hooligans seems like a weak excuse for what was across the board a disappointing 2016 season. Once upon a time — basically before he signed for BMC for mega-money, Gilbert could win on demand. Our feeling is that those years have largely passed and the slow decline is in progress.
It appeared from a distance that BMC wasn’t exactly motivated to keep Gilbert around anymore. Maybe we’re wrong on that score but there were several stories over the past few years about Gilbert’s old school — read “backward” — approach to training. Gilbert is a “feel” guy and apparently uninterested in most of the advances in training and sports science.
We can all appreciate an Anti-Sky approach to racing but in Gilbert’s case, the results haven’t exactly been big or bold. When performance director Alan Peiper came over to BMC, he made this assesment: “Gilbert is an old school cyclist. He has never even had a trainer before but the cycling world is changing.” In that sense, Gilbert was very much like Frenchman Pierrick Fedrigo of FDJ, another athlete without a real interest in the latest training tools.
Well, perhaps Gilbert didn’t see the need to change or we simply missed his wholehearted embrace of modern training methodologies. In any case, he’s out of BMC and back in a more traditional set-up with Patrick Lefevere’s Quickstep outfit.
Gilbert says he’s happy to be at Quickstep and that their style of racing is one he admires. “I liked racing against them because of the quality of riders but also because they were aggressive. The aim is always to win but they won with a certain style and that’s what I liked. I hope that will be the case again in 2017.”
We are more than willing to admit taking a negative view of Gilbert’s chances. Hopefully he proves us wrong and we look stupid yet again — like when we wrote off Mark Cavendish as washed up last year. Bad mistake on our part and we’re still living with the shame. Perhaps a more old school environment will do Gilbert some good.