VALKENBURG, Netherlands (VN) — Two superstars and only one rainbow jersey usually add up to disaster in world championships, but the Belgian squad of Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert insists there’s unity going into Sunday’s battle up the Cauberg.
Boonen and Gilbert will line up in Maastricht on Sunday morning as five-star favorites to win the world title and both say that having each other on the same team is a bonus, not a distraction.
“Having Tom in great shape on the same team will only be good for both of us,” Gilbert told journalists Friday morning. “Having Tom behind me for a sprint will give me more space to attack. We will race well together.”
Boonen sat there nodding in agreement.
Belgium will line up with a deep, nine-man squad that features not only favorites such as Gilbert and 2005 world champ Boonen, but others, such as Greg Van Avermaet and Bjorn Leukemans, two riders that can cover early moves for their team captains.
The team’s clear leaders will be Boonen and Gilbert, both of whom arrive in Valkenburg with high hopes and strong individual ambitions.
Boonen has enjoyed a renaissance this year, dominating the spring classics in a revenge season after a few sub-par campaigns. An unprecedented sweep through the cobbled classics elevated him back to the elite of the sport and though he has struggled since his legendary solo Paris-Roubaix win, Boonen is a top favorite for his second rainbow jersey.
Gilbert, meanwhile, has struggled following his spectacular 2011 season, only winning his first races at the Vuelta a España last month. Gilbert won the Amstel Gold Race, which features the Cauberg finish climb, in 2011 and the Spanish tour set him up nicely for this weekend’s battle.
“I won two stages at the Vuelta and came out of the race feeling very strong,” Gilbert said. “Things didn’t go as well as I hoped during the classics or the Olympics. The truth is I feel very good right now… Anything can happen at the worlds and we’re ready to play our cards.”
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