Gilbert backs Katusha for Fleche

Gilbert backs Katusha for Fleche
By Eurosport

18/04/2012 at 01:48Updated 18/04/2012 at 01:59

Philippe Gilbert thinks Katusha are the team to watch in the 76th edition of Fleche-Wallonne on Wednesday.

The defending champion produced a season-best, sixth-place finish at Amstel Gold on Sunday but thinks the Russian team will be dangerous.

"They have several cards to play with guys like Oscar Freire and Joaquin Rodriguez (pictured). They have a very strong team here. For me they are the favourites, especially with this type of finish."

The 29-year-old, who claimed all three Ardennes Classics in 2011, has been short on form since joining BMC but showed a sign of improvement at the weekend, chasing Freire up the finishing climb of the Cauberg before fading.

And he is feeling more confident about his condition.

"I'm satisfied, having had a respectable result is good for the morale and helps me recover a little faster," he said.

"I knew my condition would be back one day. Cycling is an extremely demanding sport, so when we suffer it is not always easy to be good during a race. Being in better condition helps me to see the race, to analyse it and to place myself in the front.

"I'm not 100 percent yet, but I feel it's coming. The past few weeks my condition has been improving day by day. So time is on my side – it's my best ally."

Rodriguez is the favourite for the 76th edition of the UCI World Tour race while fellow Spaniards Alejandro Valverde, the winner in 2006, Igor Anton and Daniel Moreno are also tipped to flourish.

The top two in Sunday's race, Enrico Gasparotto and Jelle Vandendert, are also in the field as is Luxembourg's Frank Schleck.

The finishing climb of the Mur de Huy, a twisting 1.3 km ascent averaging 9.3 percent, is normally the deciding moment in the 194km race that has been won in recent years by the likes of Cadel Evans, Kim Kirchen, Danilo Di Luca and Davide Rebellin - on three occasions.

Most wins - Riders

3 Marcel Kint BEL 1943, 1944, 1945

3 Eddy Merckx BEL 1967, 1970, 1972

3 Moreno Argentin ITA 1990, 1991, 1994

3 Davide Rebellin ITA 2004, 2007, 2009

2 Ferdi Kübler SUI 1951, 1952

2 Stan Ockers BEL 1953, 1955

2 Rik Van Steenbergen BEL 1949, 1958

2 André Dierickx BEL 1973, 1975

2 Bernard Hinault FRA 1979, 1983

2 Claude Criquielion BEL 1985, 1989

2 Laurent Jalabert FRA 1995, 1997

Most wins - Countries

38 Belgium

18 Italy

8 France

2 Switzerland

2 Denmark

2 Spain

1 Netherlands

1 Germany

1 United States

1 Luxembourg

1 Australia

Last 10 years

2011 Philippe Gilbert (BEL) Joaquim Rodríguez (ESP) Samuel Sánchez (ESP)

2010 Cadel Evans (AUS) Joaquim Rodríguez (ESP) Alberto Contador (ESP)

2009 Davide Rebellin (ITA) Andy Schleck (LUX) Damiano Cunego (ITA)

2008 Kim Kirchen (LUX) Cadel Evans (AUS) Damiano Cunego (ITA)

2007 Davide Rebellin (ITA) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Danilo Di Luca (ITA)

2006 Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Samuel Sánchez (ESP) Karsten Kroon (NED)

2005 Danilo Di Luca (ITA) Kim Kirchen (LUX) Davide Rebellin (ITA)

2004 Davide Rebellin (ITA) Danilo Di Luca (ITA) Matthias Kessler (GER)

2003 Igor Astarloa (ESP) Aitor Osa (ESP) Alexandr Shefer (KAZ)

2002 Mario Aerts (BEL) Unai Etxebarria (VEN) Michele Bartoli (ITA)