Gilbert: I’m not the favorite at Paris-Roubaix


After two and a half years of absence, reigning Paris-Roubaix champion Philippe Gilbert returned to the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix on Thursday afternoon, previewing the pavement ahead of Sunday’s long-awaited race.

Shortly after he and his Lotto Soudal team completed their reconnaissance run, the Belgian held court with a dozen journalists in a parking area on the D40 towards Wallers. There, as trucks and rival teams raced past, Gilbert gave his opinion on himself and the contenders ahead of what he said was an uncertain edition of Paris-Roubaix.

“I think there will be more uncertainty with a lot of runners,” said Gilbert. “As part of the Spring Classics, we have more certainty about the runners’ state of form. This time, I would say hats off to any runner who can tell me he’ll finish in the top five on Sunday.

“I’m happy to be in this region again and I’m also happy to have seen the cobbles again, even though I’ve ridden them 50,000 times. They were very slippery. In some areas there was mud and I even saw the runners slip, I was at the limit.

“I’m stress free here. I’m not the favorite and just want to have fun on the bike on Sunday. We have to be honest – Lotto Soudal is not the most ‘obvious’ team to turn to. , we can’t aspire to a better result, we have to be honest about it.

“But it’s also a race that has produced surprises in the past. Whoever’s in the first breakaway here has a chance to succeed. But I just talked to my teammates and apparently we all want to be in the first breakaway, “he joked.

The rain has already fallen on the Paris-Roubaix course this week, and while several cobbled sections, such as the famous Trouée d’Arenberg were clean and dry on Thursday afternoon, others were covered in mud and many runners – Gilbert and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) included – pointed out how slippery they are.

More rain is expected in preparation for the weekend’s two races, and could even fall during the day, which would make it the first wet Paris-Roubaix since 2002 – when Johan Museeuw, 36, claimed victory in 21 – Tom Boonen, one year old, made his debut.

Gilbert, who at 39 will be the second oldest rider in the race, was a trainee for FDJ that year, and, for all his years in the peloton, will start the race with so much racing experience on a Roubaix. wet than the younger. Sunday peloton man Quinn Simmons from Trek-Segafredo.

Contrary to widespread enthusiasm from fans, many of whom have been following the weather forecast in northern France for a few weeks now, Gilbert said he certainly isn’t looking forward to the possibility of racing in wet conditions.

“It will be chaos on Sunday, it will be a Paris-Roubaix like I have never raced before. It will be anything but fun and I hope the weather changes,” said Gilbert.

“I saw a lot of crashes during the recce. I can’t imagine how we do this race without falling or touching the ground. If it starts to rain it will be really chaotic. I’m not looking forward to it. I J ran in snow, 45 degree heat, gusty wind, but never in mud like I saw today.

“Even in the few cyclo-cross races I’ve done in the past, I’ve never seen this. It’s anything but nice, in my opinion. will not be the rider who passes the fastest on the cobbles but the one who can stay in the saddle the longest. “

Gilbert, who last won the race for Deceuninck-QuickStep at the Roubaix velodrome, beating Nils Politt in a two-man sprint, said the weather forecast meant he couldn’t predict a winner, that is his belief. that accidents – or lack of them – will decide the race. He noted his former team, however, as an obvious force in the race.

“The more riders you have on your team in the final, the more chances you have of winning,” said Gilbert. “So you still look at the same team [Deceuninck-QuickStep]. But with the bad weather forecast, I can’t give a single name.

“If it is really raining or if it’s very dangerous, something will happen in every sector and favorites will fall. When equipment breaks, it will take a long time because the cars will be everywhere and nowhere. It’s going to be hell for everyone: runners, sports directors … But also: I’m not an expert. This is only my fourth start.

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