Gilbert hanging onto hope ahead of Tour of Flanders
Philippe Gilbert 2012
BMC Racing Team will face Sunday's Tour of Flanders with star riders Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd short on form and confidence.
The team's two biggest stars have both been hit by illness and indifferent performances this spring: Hushovd fell sick after Paris-Nice, Gilbert has suffered teeth problems.
Both men were short of fighting talk in Friday's press conference in Kortrijk. Asked for his target at the Tour of Flanders, Gilbert admitted: "I'm not in a position where I can say top ten, top five, podium. I have nothing behind me suggesting that... I hope to be there in the finale, it's good for confidence."
From star to stutterer
If it's a bluff, Gilbert is worthy of the top tables at Las Vegas. Confidence was no problem last year for a man who moved around the bunch with nonchalant wilfulness. There was no question that he wouldn't be there at a Classic finale.
Such a reliable bet has stuttered so far this spring. We haven't seen the Gilbert of 2011 yet, but he hopes to be at his best for Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
As for Thor Hushovd, the Norwegian spoke of "not being ready last weekend" at Gent-Wevelgem, lacking form and fitness. Flanders may be too soon, but Paris-Roubaix next weekend is his big goal.
Given BMC's impressive winter signings, nobody could have foreseen that the star-stuffed team would be at a loose end coming into the Classics season.
"It's not a normal situation," Gilbert conceded. "I never lost my motivation, I've worked to be ready."
Sat next to one another under the bright lights, Hushovd and Gilbert were partners in pregnant hope. "I hope to be there in the finale," was the line they parroted.
Van Avermaet and Ballan in the frame
For a new Flanders finale which could well reward strength over subtlety, BMC leadership may well go instead to in-form options Greg Van Avermaet and Alessandro Ballan.
However, 2007 winner Ballan might be weighed down by latest developments of the Mantova investigation.
BMC started the season with four potential leaders. On the eve of the Tour of Flanders, only one - Van Avermaet - is untroubled by uncertain form or future.
Tour of Flanders: The Big Preview