After a tumultuous start of the day, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) took part in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The 29 year-old Belgian rider is linked to a doping case with ‘ozone therapy’ doctor Chris Mertens and he has to provide some explanations to the Belgian cycling federation at the end of March. His BMC team decided not to hold Van Avermaet off the bike and let him race the Omloop in which he was a favourite after finishing runner-up last year behind Ian Stannard (Team Sky).
Van Avermaet didn’t hide away during the start and told everybody who wanted to know that he was innocent. He also spoke with the Belgian TV after the race, although the BMC press officer clarified that other media were not allowed to ask questions. Van Avermaet positioned himself in the doorway of the team bus after taking a shower. He was asked by Sporza if the doping news had been on his mind during the race.
“Not really,” Van Avermaet said. "I tried not to think about it. You always have it on your mind, obviously. I tried to start my race like I would normally do. These are races that suit me. I should not give up on them. I have to keep working like I’m doing now."
He featured on the front when the field climbed the Taaienberg at 60 kilometres from the finish. When the last riders from the early breakaway were in sight he attacked but was unable to gain an advantage. Then, when the decisive move went up the road later, Van Avermaet was no longer present. In the end he chased hard together with Sep Vanmarcke to get back to the leaders, but he fell short and finished sixth.
“I’m pleased with my race although more was maybe possible if I would be in the group," he said. "Tomorrow is another chance. It was quite good. I had a mechanical on the cobbles of the Haaghoek. That made me spend some energy. During the second passage I was a bit too far and we had Jempy [Jean-Pierre Drucker] up front. I hesitated to close the gap or not. Then I saw Jempy getting dropped and that was sad. Then I tried with Sep.
"We got close but we were unable to close the gap. After the cobbles we saw them really well but then it was over for the two of us. We were unable to accelerate and then it was hard to close the gap. On the cobbles I was unable to share the work. I was not able to go faster than him. I tried to do my work on the asphalt, as good as possible. Maybe with another man it was possible.
"We were hoping that they would start riding tactically, but once it was half a minute we knew it was over. We kept riding until the finish. Apparently we were not strong enough."