When we meet him on a soft December morning, he could hardly seem more contented.
Sitting behind the till of his eponymous bike shop (‘The Bike Shop, by Philippe Gilbert’) in one of the most select boutique streets in the principality, he is chatting amiably with his staff, nipping at an inevitable cyclist’s espresso, already kitted out for his training ride.
The blue Quick Step jersey looks well on him, even if it still necessitates a minor mental adjustment; removing him from the red and black of BMC, and the similar colours of his national champion’s kits. He smiles broadly, and often, pushing back the peak of his casquette, planted for comfort beneath a bespoke helmet whose subtle black, red and yellow flashes serve as a reminder of his multiple Belgian titles. He’s the man this team always wanted, and now, without Tom Boonen to fly the flag, they’ve finally snagged him.
Gilbert and Quick Step is as good a fit as there is in cycling. It’s as if he has never worn any other colours, which of course could not be further from the truth. But that story was still to come. Business first.
We start to talk about his training ride, and our schedule for the day. He goes into great detail about the route, suggesting points where we could meet; vistas which might offer Marshall a good spot for a photo. It dawns on us that he’s gone out of his way to sort out a bespoke ride that would work for us.
“How long do you think it will take you from here to the top of the col?” I ask him, thinking about fetching the car and getting driving. “Roughly…”
“One hour and ten minutes.” He doesn’t even hesitate.
“I was never interested in racing for the GC. You don’t really race to win, you know? You race more to not lose. It’s another thing. You can end up doing what Froome did [on the 2017 Tour]; you win the GC, but you don’t win a stage. This is not nice. Where is the fun in this? This is really what I hate in cycling.”
He plants his coffee cup down, drained. He’s warming to the subject.