Tour de France: Van Avermaet goes on the attack in the Jura

Olympic champion predicts Sunday's stage will be the most important of the 2017 race

Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) isn’t having the time of his life so far in the 2017 Tour de France. After a great Spring campaign, Van Avermaet hoped to have an equally great run in the Grande Boucle. But so far the 32-year-old Belgian has missed out on the two small chances he's had.

After the finish in Station des Rousses on Saturday, Van Avermaet expressed the hope that the second part of the Tour would provide him with more opportunities to keep him from being bored. In contrast to previous stages, the BMC Racing Team didn’t control the breakaway. Instead, they featured in the breakaway move with Van Avermaet and Nicolas Roche.

“We did a good race, I think. It wasn’t up to us to control the race. That was the job of Team Sky. We did a good stage and I think Richie went well too,” Van Avermaet said.

During stage 8 from Dole to Station des Rousses in the Jura mountains, Van Avermaet was one of the most active riders in the peloton during the start of the stage. A first big effort with Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) was neutralized.

Still, Van Avermaet was strong enough to join the small peloton that went up the road later in the stage. He survived the natural selection in this group and reached the final climb, category 1 climb Montée de la Combe de Laisia Les Molunes in the front group. From there, the pure climbers were on their terrain and Van Avermaet quickly had to let go of them.

“I spent a lot of energy in the breakaway move with Sylvain Chavanel and Lutsenko," he said. "They caught us on the climb and then I panicked a little because normally they’re not passing me like that. I was in a bit of crisis. I managed to pick it up again and had super sensations during the remainder of the stage.

"I tried to gain as much time as possible before the final climb. I worked hard for it. Some riders were saving their legs a bit, I think. I can’t understand why some climbers don’t try to help a little bit more. Once you went all in, you’ve got to keep playing. There wasn’t much else I could do.”

Van Avermaet then asked who won the stage, in order to check whether the winner was one of those who worked or not. He was told Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) had won the stage. He wasn’t impressed.

“Oh, well. Congratulations to the boy,” Van Avermaet said. “There were a lot of climbers around me. I looked around me and saw guys from 65 kilograms. It was hopeless. I would never have been able to keep up with them. When hitting the climb I heard through the radio that we were only 1:20 ahead of the peloton. It didn’t boost my morale. I no longer went to the limit. I think I wasted a lot of energy for nothing today. I tried and I lost and that’s a pity."

When looking ahead, Van Avermaet knew that he was good enough to get a win on his terrain, the intermediate stages. Still, in this year’s Tour de France, there are not that many stages that suit his capabilities.

"With the form I have I should be able to gain something out of this Tour. My sensations are good, but the result disappoints me a lot. You can’t win every time. Rodez? That’s a stage that suits me of course,” Van Avermaet said of the 14th stage that finishes in Rodez. It’s the town where he captured his breakthrough win during the 2015 Tour de France.

“I read that Matthews is interested too. We need all the help we can get. Démare should be capable of a good result on such a finish too. Hopefully I can strike again,” Van Avermaet said, already inviting Sunweb and FDJ to control the breakaway on stage 14.

“It was the first hard day for me. In Longwy I battled for the victory and today I hoped to do something. I felt fresh this morning. Hopefully there’ll be more opportunities in the second part of the Tour because up until now it was a little bit boring.”

On Sunday, Van Avermaet morphs back into his role as a domestique for the team’s GC rider, Richie Porte.

"I have no ambition to win Sunday’s stage," he said. "It’s way too hard. Even today was on the limit. My job will be to help and get Richie safely at the finish. With the forecasted rain it might become the most important stage of the Tour de France.” 

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