Gilbert spent the last five years with BMC Racing, which sent him to the Ardennes Classics and let Greg Van Avermaet focus on the cobbled Classics. He joined Belgium’s top team Quick-Step this winter for a chance to return to the Tour of Flanders and the Classics leading up to it.
“It’s like they live for this,” the Belgian champion from Wallonia said.
“When you join this team, you hear the words Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix like 50 times a day! Everyone is speaking about this, the riders are always are talking about it.
“Other teams only talk about the Tour de France, but here it’s all about the classics. It’s in the DNA of the team.”
Gilbert broke away early in Dwars door Vlaanderen last week, paving the way for Yves Lampaert’s win and second behind his team-mate.
Watch: Tour of Flanders essential guide
He went with Van Avermaet into the E3 Harelbeke final and narrowly lost in the sprint. Then on Tuesday, he attacked on the Muur, distanced himself from Luke Durbridge (Orica-Scott) and held the gap to arrive solo in Zottegem.
Quick Step’s might is partly due to its strength in numbers. If not Gilbert, the team may count on Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra or Zdenek Stybar.
“Yeah, it’s a nice group. It’s a nice team with really good material. Everything is perfect. When you have all this support, you feel good. It’s always easier when you have big support, a big strong team,” Gilbert added.
“At the end, you can play the card of different guys. You always have someone in front and this is a good motivation.”
Gilbert won all three Ardennes Classics in the same season and the Valkenburg World Championship in the same area in 2012. He has not raced a full cobbled campaign since 2012, even though he placed third twice in Flanders in his career.
“[Racing Flanders again] has always been a motivation for me. I wasn’t always allowed to do it in the past and now I’m happy to be on the start,” he continued.
Of the placings and his De Panne win, he added, “This is not really important. Only Sunday counts.”
After Sunday’s Flanders, he will take a break and skip Paris-Roubaix before returning for the Ardennes Classics, starting with the Amstel Gold Race.