Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet make their return to racing this week when the five-day Tour of Belgium begins on Wednesday with a 194.2km stage from Lochristi to Knokke-Heist. Gilbert won a stage and the overall title in 2011 during arguably his greatest season to date but the reigning world champion arrives at the race with mixed expectations to that of his younger BMC teammate Van Avermaet. Gilbert is still recovering from the long-haul flight back from the United States while Van Avermaet returns to racing after the Ardennes and has his eyes on the general classification.
Withdrawing from the Tour of California after just three days of racing so that he could return to Monaco for the birth of his second son means that Gilbert is uncertain of his form heading into the often wind-effect race. However, with the race passing through his home village on the final stage around Banneux, he will look to deliver something special on the roads he knows particularly well. Notching up a victory has alluded Gilbert so far this year but he will no doubt seek to break the drought in his home race.
"It will be hard to recover from the jet lag before the start because I always have problems with jet lag," said Gilbert on his team site. "I hope to be able to follow in the first stages, but it will depend on the wind and the weather forecast, of course. I'm looking forward to doing something on the last stage because it passes right through my village, so I know the roads well."
Van Avermaet enjoyed a solid start to the year and performed particularly well in his first race appointments in Qatar and Oman but is yet to take an individual victory. He was part of the winning squad in the TTT in the opening stage at the Tour of Qatar and while he's achieved seven top-ten placing's in stages and one-day races the Tour of Belgium appears to be his next-best opportunity to stand atop the highest step.
The 28-year-old Van Avermaet raced through the entire cobbled spring classics and picked up third at Gent-Wevelgem, seventh at the Tour of Flanders and fourth at Paris-Roubaix before continuing into the Ardennes with a top-20 in the Amstel Gold Race and after a good rest should arrive fresh and motivated to improve on his past results at the Belgian tour. Second-overall in 2008 and 2011 means he arrives with high expectations but going off his performance so far this season, Van Avermaet will surely be amongst the top contenders.
"The Tour of Belgium is a nice race for me, especially this year because there are some stages with suit me," said Van Avermaet. "One is on the old parcours of the Tour of Flanders with some climbs on the Mur and the old finish in Meerbeke. There are also two stages in the Ardennes. I hope to go for a stage win and a good general classification because I will not lose too much time in the time trial."
Van Avermaet's confidence was echoed by the team's sports director Yvon Ledanois who added that with a number of fresh riders in the line-up the squad will be looking to be at the head of affairs through the 730km race.
"Several of the riders come in well-rested after a break, so I'm confident we will do well with this team," said Ledanois.
BMC Racing Team for Tour of Belgium: Greg Van Avermaet (Bel), Marcus Burghardt (Ger), Philippe Gilbert (Bel), Martin Kohler (Swi), Sebastian Lander (Den), Dominik Nerz (Ger), Manuel Quinziato (Ita) and Larry Warbasse (USA).