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.