After such a strong spring campaign so far, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) took a hit today after he was forced to pull out of E3 Harelbeke just hours before the start. The decision to do so came so late that the podium announcer thought his team were joking when they informed him that Van Avermaet was in bed and sick.
Over the past month, Van Avermaet has put himself to the forefront of the Tour of Flanders contenders. With just over a week until the big event, it’s a setback he could have done without but his team are confident that it won’t hinder his chances.
“He did Waregem [Dwars door Vlaanderen –ed], and if he can do Gent-Wevelgem then he will be ok,” BMC directeur sportif Fabio Baldato told the press before the start. “His levels are there, he’s ok. We don’t want to push too hard if the body isn’t good. At this stage, it’s better not to go too deep.
“He didn’t have a good night. It doesn’t look like he’s got an infection but this morning he was still bad. He didn’t feel good enough to start and he didn’t want to take a risk. With Greg we need to go for a win, not just to try. So it is better to save him, hope for Gent. It’s a safety thing, so that he doesn’t go too deep. If something’s not good, it’s better not to go too deep. Flanders is still the main objective.”
Van Avermaet has had one of his best seasons thus far, winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the overall Classification at Tirreno-Adriatico. He was in aggressive mood earlier in the week with a late attack at Dwars door Vlaanderen. While it came to nothing, it showed that he was still going extremely well. The team now hope that Van Avermaet will recover in time to make the start of Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, his final preparation race ahead of the Tour of Flanders.
“I hope. I need to see tonight and tomorrow how things go but I hope yes,” said Baldato. “We’re just focused on today, and then tonight we will discuss things with the other directeurs. It’s not only my decision, but at the moment we are just focusing on today E3 Harelbeke.”
Whether or not he makes it back for Sunday, the plans for Friday’s E3 Harelbeke will be lying in a waste paper bin. The team must now look elsewhere for success with just seven riders to play with.
“Now the pressure is on the others to do well,” Baldato laughed. “I have a lot of good riders with me, I still have five or six guys who will be there in the final. This is a race that we have an opportunity but we are smart and we have to make the right decisions at the right moment. For sure the men to watch are Cancellara, all of Etixx, Lotto-Soudal are strong. We need to be strong, attentive and to race well.”