The Belgian champion will ride for Etixx-QuickStep in 2017, ending an important five-year chapter of his career with BMC that included his world road race title in Valkenburg in 2012, 18 other victories, and a series of placings in many of the Classics.
“I’ve got good memories of my five years at BMC. I won some good races and enjoyed lots of good moments,” Gilberto told Cyclingnews, though he was keen to play down the significance of his last race in BMC kit.
“Today is not a time for emotions; it's not going to be an emotional farewell - not at all. It’s my last race with BMC but there isn’t a chance to get emotional. It’s a last race, a last hard race.”
A clash of character
Gilbert’s determined character occasionally put him at odds with the BMC set-up, especially when he was not selected for the cobbled spring Classics and other race he wanted to ride.
He and Greg van Avermaet fought for team leadership in many of the Classics, with the Flandrian given his chances and Gilbert having to focus on the Ardennes Classics. They share team leadership one last time at Il Lombardia, with their rivalry likely to be far more visible out on the road in 2017 as they ride for different teams.
“Well see what happens next spring,” Gilbert told Sud Info in his Wallonne region of Belgium in a recent interview. “We must first know if the [cobbled] races still suit me because the routes have changed and everything has become a matter for real specialists. Riders like me who can challenge in Milan-San Remo, Flanders and through to the Ardennes Classic are pretty rare now. When I was young we used to also ride the Tour de Romandie. Now teams have different specialists and different programmes.
"I would have liked to ride Flanders but it wasn’t something I could control, so I preferred to focus on my own priorities. Sometimes you have to drop some things.”
Gilbert will perhaps share team leadership at the Classics with Tom Boonen, who will be riding his last ever campaign before retirement. He doesn’t see it as a problem.
“I'm glad I signed to Etixx. Tom is an exceptional rider; he’s fast, clever but still rides to win. Rather than waiting for a sprint in the velodrome, he the guy who went clear alone at 60km from the finish of Roubaix. That’s class. I’m excited about being able to train together. In fact I’m looking forward to the winter and 2017.”