Former world champion hoping to roll back the years and win another Ardennes Classic in 2017
The Belgian rode for BMC Racing for the last five seasons, with a national championship title being the highlight of his 2016 season, and a broken finger after confronting a motorist with pepper spray while training, marking the low point.
“My goal is to win a big Classic,” Gilbert said in a Quick-Step video. “I was able to do that several years, but last year I had a finger broken in a bad moment and I lost all my chances.
“The last one was in 2014 with the Amstel Gold Race, and in 2015 and 2016, I didn’t win any Monuments. And now, it’s time again.”
Watch: 10 best road riders of 2016
Gilbert rocketed through the 2011 season with wins in all three Ardennes Classics, and a stage and yellow jersey in the Tour de France. The following year, he won the world championships in Valkenburg, the Netherlands.
Since then the wins have come less frequently. Since the 2014 Amstel Gold Race, his biggest victories have been two stages in the Giro d’Italia, and a stage and overall classification in the Tour of Beijing.
At BMC Racing, Greg Van Avermaet improved and earned the sole leadership for the 2016 cobbled classics while the team sent Gilbert to the Ardennes Classics.
At Quick-Step, Gilbert will likely share leadership responsibility with Ireland’s Daniel Martin and fast improving Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe.
It remains unclear how the team will divide the roles, if Gilbert will race some of the cobbled classics with Tom Boonen and if he will be given sole leadership in some of the Ardennes Classics.
Gilbert, however, is happy to finally ride for manager Patrick Lefevere and his home country’s top team.
“It’s a great honour to be part of this team. I look forward to wear the jersey and ride on the bike,” he said.
“The first time I met [Lefevere], I was 16 years old. We were already in contact when the moment came for me to turn pro. Every time that it was time to renew my contract, he was there. I’m happy we found an agreement after so many years.
“I was always competing against Quick-Step – forever. It was always a good fight. It was always a fight, but in a good way. I always liked to race against them, first because of the quality of their riders and then because they are aggressive. They win with a certain style. That’s what I like. I’m sure that will be the case again in 2017.”