Gilbert Needs A Lieutenant

Fotoreporter Sirotti


There is some reporting floating around that Phillipe Gilbert is interested in racing with Vacansoleil’s Bjorn Leukemans at whatever team he winds up when his contract with Omega Pharma-Lotto expires.

Gilbert and Leukemans aren’t strangers to each other, clearly. They took first and second at the Brabantse Pijl this year, riding away from the field together and staring each other down as they entered the final kilometer. They are two powerful racers who know each other’s racing style, strengths, and share an affinity for the classics.

Given Gilbert’s intention to win all five Monuments, Leukemans would be a valuable asset. At Omega Pharma-Lotto, Gilbert does not lack for capable domestiques. In addition to Jelle Vanendert, who rode an impressive Ardennes week in support of Gilbert and netted some decent results (including 6th at la Fleche Wallone), Gilbert could count on Jussi Veikkanen, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, and Jan Bakelants (up until the closing kilometers of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, that is).

But to win the rest of the Monuments – specifically, de Ronde and Paris-Roubaix – Gilbert doesn’t need a domestique. He needs a Lieutenant, a powerful foil in the group behind him that would make rivals unable to respond to his attack (on a hellingen or on the pavé) unwilling to chase, lest they give a free ride to the front to a potential winner. Gilbert’s got guys who can put the hurt on a field, chase down a late break (see Amstel Gold 2011) and set him up for an attack. But he needs a teammate who can win a race, and with that threat, give Gilbert a long enough leash to leave the rest of the race behind.

I think Leukemans is that guy. Will they wind up together? We’ll see. This year’s transfer season promises intrigue for the 2012 Classics Season, as QuickStep and Omega Pharma-Lotto both look to be shook up with expiring contracts with both sponsors and riders.

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6 Responses to Gilbert Needs A Lieutenant

  1. Stevep says:

    Why would Leukemans join a team with Gilbert? He is clearly a contender as well. Surely his career would suffer from such a move and make cycling just that much less interesting for the fans. And what is this preoccupation with dream team tactics?

    Look at Cancellara…it proves that you need more than just a collection of the best names and statospheric budgets to win.

  2. aahmadhu says:

    cancellara is the only cobbled specialist who can do this without any dependable teammates. that TT expertise is one hell of an asset when used on cobbles, much more devastating than sprint and hill expertise respectively. what i see is that gilbert finds that on cobbles, he needs someone who also poses a threat for the win, much like boonen does with chavanel in flanders and hushovd with van summeren in roubaix.

  3. Mattio says:

    Steve, Leukemans answers your question in the linked article: "if I was significantly compensated."

    I think we have not so much a preoccupation with "dream team tactics," but an acknowledgement of what it takes to win the biggest bike races in the world. If it were simply about being the strongest guy to grab the race by its undercarriage, Cancellara would have walked away with a lot more wins this spring. Cancellara's *on* a dream team, but he didn't have much support for the Spring Classics. Hence, at the end of the races, he found himself outnumbered and marked with no good response to that.

  4. Julius says:

    Hi Stevep and aahmadhu, you are correct that Cancellara, and also Boonen (remember when he basically shed everybody off his wheel in Roubaix 2009?), have proven that it is indeed possible to win big races without so much as a lieutenant. But Gilbert is a different kind of rider, he doesn't put in long moves to win. At least nothing that comes to my mind. Maybe he can win that way, and maybe he should try, but my belief is that to win de Ronde he needs a lieutenant, or a believable threat to other contenders. Roubaix is a different animal altogether though.

    As for why Leukemans would join forces, who knows, he may yet end up as the Devolder (or Van Summeren) of the team, stealing big wins on his own when everybody else is occupied with Phil. Or worst case, Phil will have to arrange to let him win a lesser race or two. Why did Chavanel decide to move to QSI a couple of years back? Some say, and he acknowledged, that he wanted to learn to ride for a winning team, and perhaps have a chance or two. Even if he knew he'd be on a leash both in de Ronde and Roubaix. Looking back, I think it was a good career move.

  5. grolby says:

    Well, Gilbert has put in long moves to win Het Volk, but… 'nuff said, really. Het Volk.

    That said, you don't need to go from a long way out to win de Ronde or Roubaix. A lieutenant is valuable to control the race until the vital moment (if said lieutenant is ahead) or after the big winning attack (if said lieutenant is in the group).

  6. Julius says:

    Grolby, you're right, I forgot about his '08 Het Volk win, I was thinking more of his '09 Het Volk win when he chased, attacked, chased, and attacked again. These two wins give me hope that he can conquer Roubaix in the near future!

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