“I’d be happy to swap four or five of my previous wins for victory there,” Gilbert said, “and if I take second or third, I won’t be happy.”
For Gilbert, no other pro race, regardless of importance, is as close to his hometown as Liege-Bastogne-Liege. On Sunday, around 10,000 fans are expected to congregate on the slopes of its most famous climb of La Redoute, with around 100 barrels of beer – a new record – expected to be consumed as they cheer on the local hero and his Omega Pharma-Lotto team. And around 7pm they hope that Gilbert will join them – with the winner’s bouquet.
But Gilbert is playing his cards close to his chest, and in stark contrast to the last Walloon winner of LBL, Frank Vandenbroucke, despite his earlier successes he is refusing to say where he plans to attack.
“I will not talk like him and say that, because I’m not sure to win,” Gilbert said.
“It’s already a huge deal that I’m tipped as the biggest favourite, and if I can win, it’ll be amazing.”
Although Gilbert’s Omega Pharma-Lotto team will field the same line-up on Sunday as they did at Fleche Wallone, Gilbert says “we will have much responsibility than at Fleche.”
“On Wednesday the whole team decided to go easier than at Amstel, because we didn’t expect to win. I was the first to be surprised that I could do it and we made some mistakes because we weren’t fully concentrated.”
“But Sunday is a different story, it’s far longer and harder. And I’ll be asking the other favourites for help. I’m not the only one with ambitions. And we’ll be more concentrated, too.”
Gilbert also hinted that his form may be beginning to taper off, saying that he hadn’t been so good in training [Friday] and played down any comparisons between himself and Cancellara.
“When Fabian goes on the attack, he’s away for 40 kilometres, in my case in the last two races it’s been for 300 metres.”
“But Sunday is the most important day of my season so far, and maybe of my whole career.”