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May 23, 2017

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World champion Philippe Gilbert aims to win Lombardy in new rainbow stripes

MILAN -- Philippe Gilbert will showcase his new rainbow stripe jersey at the Tour of Lombardy on Saturday, but the Belgian is not racing to make up the numbers.

Gilbert ended years of frustration at the world road race championships by finally landing the title at Valkenburg in the Netherlands a week ago.

Instead of racing the Giro del Piedmont, which he has done, and won, prior to the Tour of Lombardy previously, the BMC rider has rested and trained this week.

It's a clear sign that a third victory in the "Race of the Falling Leaves" — so-called because it signals the start of early autumn in Lombardy — is on his mind.

Another was his apparent reluctance to get too carried away with celebrations after becoming the first Belgian since Tom Boonen in 2005 to win the world title.

"Phil is super motivated to take his first win wearing the rainbow jersey on Saturday in Lombardia," BMC sports director Rik Verbrugghe told Belgian website Sporza.

"He didn't party for very long, the course suits him and he's in good condition."

The route for the Tour of Lombardy, like many cycling "monuments," has changed or been altered over the years and this year's edition will be no different.

To commemorate the 70th birthday of Italian great Felice Gimondi, the race will start from his native city of Bergamo and finish 251 km later in Lecco.

Gimondi, a former two-time winner, believes the winner of this edition will have earned his spurs.

"I'm honored and excited about everything that's been organized to celebrate my birthday," said Gimondi, who won the race in 1966 and 1973.

"Lombardy is a great race, one of the five classic 'monuments' and whoever wins on Saturday can be called a true champion."

Much of that accolade will come down to alterations to the route including a new climb, the "Muro di Sormano," which will add spice to a race whose twisting roads, climbs and descents already make it highly entertaining.

Although Gilbert seems to have the form to claim his third win after victories in 2009 and 2010, rivals will look to capitalize on the hilly, twisting terrain in the finale to make sure he doesn't get an easy ride.

His compatriot Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) is also expected to be among the challengers having finished fourth in Turin in midweek while last year's winner, Swiss Oliver Zaugg will lead RadioShack for the last time before moving to Saxo Bank.

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