By Julien Pretot
VALKENBURG, Netherlands, Sept 23 (Reuters) – Philippe Gilbert never lost faith in his own ability to eventually achieve one of his season’s goals by becoming world road race champion on Sunday.
Gilbert ended 2011 as the world number one, snatching 18 wins before he was transferred to the BMC team, where he now is one of the highest-paid riders in the peloton.
“With this transfer, my team expected a lot from me but they never put too much pressure on me,” Gilbert, wearing the rainbow jersey after the podium ceremony, told a news conference.
“It was tough because I was working hard to find my shape and I could not get there but I continued to work.”
One year after claiming four classic wins in a row (Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege), Gilbert was still without a victory at the end of the London Olympics.
“I had three goals this year the (spring) classics, the Olympics and the road world championships,” he said.
“At least I won one of them. When you have big objectives like this it’s hard to achieve them all.”
Even though he was struggling to reach top form, Gilbert did not change his plans.
“I had made some choices and I knew that the priority was to stay calm and continue working with the trust of my team,” he explained.
Gilbert worked as a domestique for Australian Cadel Evans on the Tour de France and went into the Olympics in decent shape, showing he had improved in a solo breakaway that impressed even if it proved unsuccessful.
“At the Olympics I felt the form was coming back. I stayed focused,” he said.
He finally clicked at the Vuelta, where he won two stages, his first two victories of the season.
“These stages were two tests because the finish was quite similar to today’s,” said Gilbert. “I passed those tests with flying colors.”
It helped him cement his authority within the strong Belgian team, where Tom Boonen was also aiming at the world title on Sunday.
“It showed that I had some weight in the Belgium team, that I had my place (as a leader),” he said.