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Gilbert: Racing is ‘really serious now’

Even though his all-star Deceuninck-Quick-Step team has been cleaning up in the early classics, Gilbert admits pressure is high to win big on the cobbles.

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HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — The ‘opening weekend’ passed and Milano-Sanremo too, but the racing becomes “really serious now” with the big cobbled classics this weekend through Paris-Roubaix.

Belgian Philippe Gilbert feels the pressure, despite the fact that his Deceuninck-Quick Step team has won almost every major one-day race up to this point. For the Belgian team, these classics — E3 BinckBank Classic, Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix — hold special significance.

“It’s really serious now,” Gilbert told VeloNews.

“The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is also a really big race, but now, it’s like it’s really the moment to be in good shape because you have racing almost every second day and there are opportunities to win and make a lot of points also.”

Deceuninck won both opening weekend races, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, at the beginning of March. They cleaned up in Italy: Alaphilippe won Strade Bianche, two stages in Tirreno-Adriatico, and last weekend, Milano-Sanremo. But now is crunch-time with cobbled monuments on the team’s home roads and bergs.

“Every year we say that it is going to be hard to get the same results and then every year, three years now, that we make amazing results in one-day races, and also in stage races, and it’s just crazy what we’ve achieved until now,” Gilbert said.

“And of course now it’s a big moment, a big period coming. I think we are ready for this.”

Last year, team Quick-Step positioned Niki Terpstra for the win in E3. The Dutchman went on to win the Tour of Flanders too. Over the winter, Terpstra left for Direct Energie but the plan remains the same for Deceuninck-Quick-Step: propelling one of its many stars to the line first.

Gilbert could win. Zdenek Stybar or Bob Jungels — winners of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, respectively — could do it. Or Belgian champion Yves Lampaert could lead the team to victory.

Gilbert has won all three of the Ardennes classics and the world championship title. After joining the team, he stunned those who had pegged him as a hilly classics specialist by winning the Tour of Flanders with a dramatic 55.5-kilometer solo attack in the Belgian national champion’s jersey. At 36, he is thinking about Paris-Roubaix before retiring.

“Of course, we want to win, each rider wants to win and do his best, and that’s why we are also successful,” Gilbert said.

Pressed on his dream win, he added, “Roubaix is, of course, the big dream, but I take it race by race. Of course, some races you really want to win more than others but if I can win any of the other races it’s also welcome.”