A sense of Déjà-Vu ...


Philippe Gilbert's consecutive wins in the Brabantse Pijl and the Amstel Gold Race may not necessarily make him the odds-on favourite to win the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but they certainly show he is back in business. One thing is for sure: the former world champion will be worth keeping an eye on!

Cycling in Belgium alternates between the Year of Boonen and the Year of Gilbert! After the cobble-eater's Northern campaign ended on a lower note than in 2013, it is now time for the Ardennes virtuoso to hit the stage, and produce a solid performance, judging from his impressive racing last week. When aiming for a Grand Slam, each step forward gets more difficult than the previous one, but Philippe Gilbert's start to the Ardennes triptych was an auspicious one. His victories in the Brabantse Pijl and the Amstel Gold Race are no guarantee that he has found the form which allowed him to crush the opposition in a momentous week in 2011. Yet everything seems to be falling into place for the rider from Liège in the run-up to a potential win at the Flèche Wallonne, before starting to think of a Grand Slam: his almost unbroken drought in 2013 forced him to refocus on the priorities of life as a cycling champion (weight control, intense training, etc.); his pedal strokes have obviously become more fluid; and his instinct and flair when it really counts are back, just as his characteristic confidence when in great form. He will have to draw upon all this to ensnare and control all his opponents on the last climb up the Mur de Huy and take his second Flèche Wallonne.
Nevertheless, apart from Alejandro Valverde, once again in the mix at Amstel (fourth), and despite "Purito" Rodríguez being diminished by a fall, "Phil Gil" will have to tackle stiff competition on the steepest parts of the final climb. It is worth noting that most of them gained strength and confidence at a time when the Belgian's dominance was broken. Among them, Michał Kwiatkowski, fifth on Sunday and in last year's Flèche, Paris–Nice winner Carlos Betancur (third in 2013), Dutchman Tom-Jelte Slagter, who also turned heads on similar final climbs in the Race to the Sun, or quite simply the defending champion Dani Moreno. This year's Ardennes surprise could well come from the French contingent: Warren Barguil and Tony Gallopin are not in the least afraid…  
25 teams, main contenders
MTN-Qhubeka (MTN): Gerdemann (GER)
ORICA GreenEDGE (OGE): Albasini (SUI) and Chaves (COL)
Lotto-Belisol (LTB): Van den Broeck, J. Vanendert (BEL) and Gallopin (FRA)
Omega Pharma – Quick Step (OPQ): Kwiatkowski (POL) and Bakelants (BEL)
Wanty - Groupe Gobert (WGG): Seeldrayers (BEL)
Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise (TSV): Van Hecke (BEL)
Colombia (COL): Chalapud and Rubiano (COL)
Movistar Team (MOV): Valverde (ESP) and Gadret (FRA)
BMC Racing Team (BMC): Gilbert (BEL) and S. Sánchez (ESP)
Garmin-Sharp (GRS): Hesjedal (CAN), Slagter (NED) and D. Martin (IRL)
Trek Factory Racing (TFR): A. Schleck, F. Schleck and Jungels (LUX)
United Health Care (UHC): Maaskant (NED)
Ag2r-La Mondiale (ALM): Betancur (COL), Bardet and Riblon (FRA)
FDJ.fr (FDJ): Jeannesson and Vichot (FRA)
Team Europcar (EUC): Voeckler, Rolland and Coquard (FRA)
Cofidis, Solutions Crédits (COF): Navarro (ESP), Coppel and Simon (FRA)
Team Sky (SKY): Kennaugh (GBR), Nieve and López (ESP)
Lampre - Merida (LAM): Faria (POR), Cunego (ITA) and Valls Ferri (ESP)
Cannondale (CAN): De Marchi and Moser (ITA)
Astana Pro Team (AST): Nibali (ITA), Fuglsang (DEN) and Iglinskiy (KAZ)
Belkin Pro Cycling (BEL): Mollema (NED), Nordhaug (NOR) and Hivert (FRA)
Team Giant-Shimano (ARG): Barguil and Hupond (FRA)
Team Katusha (KAT): Rodríguez (ESP) and Moreno (ITA)
Tinkoff-Saxo (TCS): Kreuziger (CZE), Roche (IRL) and C. A. Sørensen (DEN)
IAM Cycling (IAM): Pineau (FRA) and Frank (SUI)

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