Blazin' Saddles

What’s eating Gilbert Great?

Blazin' Saddles

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Forget Easter eggs this Sunday: Belgium's Philippe Gilbert hopes to
serve himself a fourth course of succulent Ardennes pate with victory in
Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

And an unprecedented fourth Belgian classics win in two weeks would be
sweet as chocolate for Phil Gil, who admitted after his imperious taming of the
Mur de Huy in last weekend's Fleche-Wallonne that his excellent form is
beginning to surprise even him.

"I no longer know what my limits are," the limitless Gilbert
said, not knowing if he should limit his post-race interviews to one major
press junket or give Saddles a direct call for a belated catch up.

"I used to think that I could only win the races of my dreams like
the Tour of Flanders, Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Lombardy - which I've
already won - and of course Liege. I didn't think I could win a race like this
one today. It's an extremely hard race that favours the climbers so to me it's
a surprise.

"This victory gives me a lot of confidence for the future," he
added, fairly confident about the future. "I feared a finish like this one
and now I can start to think about winning races I had never even thought
about. For example, I've never started the Giro dell'Emilia because I thought
it was way too hard for me. Now that I've won here, a switch has flicked in my
head."

After finishing sharing his thoughts, Gilbert then indeed did take a few
minutes out to talk to Saddles. "As I stressed earlier to your more
straight-edged colleagues in the mainstream media, I no longer know what my
limits are," he said in impeccable Chinese before stopping to take stock
of the situation.

"You see, I never knew that I could speak an Oriental language
fluently. Anyway, as this proves, this victory gives me a lot of confidence for
the future - not only in cycling, but also outside the sport," he
continued, were this part of the blog to be actually true.

"I used to think that I could only wear a gold suit, but I'm
beginning to think about pink, yellow, even rainbow suits - and not just on my
wedding day."

Of course, on a serious note, this isn't so far-fetched. Wasn't it Eddie
Merckx who last autumn - after Gilbert's explosive showing in the Vuelta -
suggested that the Belgian hotshot could transform himself into a major Tour
contender sometime soon?

Well, if he can ease past the likes of climbing specialists Joaquin
Rodriguez and Alberto Contador on the demanding Mur de Huy, then surely there's
a making of a potential three-week race candidate in there.

That said, it's one thing pulling off an uphill finish to win a classic
- but another replicating that form throughout three hot weeks in France, Italy
or Spain. And Gilbert hardly has the time trialling prowess of the former
Superman du jour, Fabian Cancellara. Just think what kind of monster a cycling
Dr Frankenstein-Ferrari could make if he fused Spartacus' motor with Gilbert's
aggression and puncheur characteristics.

One person who will be watching Liege-Bastogne-Liege with interest will
be former winner, the banned Alejandro Valverde. Hardly an out-and-out climber
or a time trialler, Valverde nevertheless won the Vuelta in 2009 - so maybe
such an achievement is not out of the question for the flamboyant Gilbert.

First things first, Phil Gil will be looking to take the Easter biscuit
and add Liege to his recent Brabanconne, Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallonne
scalps. Such a unique quadruple would surely see Gilbert crowned as the best
and most consistent rider over the past 12 months.

It will be fascinating to see if Gilbert can succeed where Cancellara
ostensibly failed. The Swiss was marked out of his two big races - Flanders and
Roubaix - and had to settle for second place in both. On Sunday, all the eyes
will be on the Omega-Pharma man. Something tells Saddles it will be all or
nothing: Gilbert won't settle for being number two on his home soil.

NO SAFETY IN NUMBERS: An incredulous Saddles smirked this week when he read
the rum story about how the organisers of the Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay
expelled more than two thirds of the race's riders over their collective
decision to protest about the adverse weather conditions.

The nuts (!) and bolts of the story are fascinating enough - 66 riders,
including the leaders of all the major classifications, out of a field of 96
were expelled after refusing to ride an afternoon stage competitively.

There's also the hilarious transpiration that the protesting riders, despite
stressing that they would not race the stage, were forced to complete it anyway
after being thrown out of their hotels and seeing their team buses sent on
ahead, leaving them stranded.

But it is the details about the Vuelta's protagonists which really pushed BS
over the edge: amongst the race favourites was a certain Iggy Silva, riding for
the Wonderful Pistachios Pro Cycling team. Apparently they're the shell of the
team they used to be...

TOUGH NUT: Step over, Jens Voigt, the peloton has a new hard man.
While cycling's Chuck Norris is getting his knickers in a twist about the race
radio ban, Mario Aerts has made the decision to undergo cardiac surgery one
month sooner than originally planned - so that he can race in the Tour de
France just over two months from now.

Super Mario will start training just one week after his operation in a
bid to line up alongside his close pal and team leader Jurgen Van Den Broucke
at Noirmoutier for the Grande Boucle curtain-raiser.

Granted, cauterizing an arrhythmia to mend an overly active heart nerve
may not exactly be a triple bypass but it's still enough to see the 36-year-old
Belgian take on the mantle of the peloton's toughest package. It's also enough
to send Saddles' pulse into overdrive.

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