Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) doesn’t win often, collecting far more placings and disappointments than victories because of his lack of a finishing sprint. But when things go his way, and he uses his speed and tactical acumen to get the better of riders with a faster finish, he is naturally happy. His wide smile in a French summer, canicule-cooked Rodez on Friday confirmed that success, especially given that rare and hard-fought wins are usually sweeter.
In the final seconds of stage 13's uphill sprint, few would have bet on Van Avermaet to beat Peter Sagan in a head-to-head surge to the line. But he did. Sagan had glued himself to Van Avermaet’s wheel as the climb eased and he seemed ready to pounce before the line but the Belgian had one last kick in his legs. He used it to condemn Sagan to his fourth second place in this year’s Tour de France.
“For me this is a big victory. I’ve finally got a Tour win,” Van Avermaet said. “I was close in the Classics this year so I came here to win a stage. I went close in the first week, survived the Pyrenees with this stage in mind and so I’m glad to have won.
“Maybe I’m not the guy who wins 20 races a year, I usually get six or seven. So I’m pretty happy when I do win. I can win more for sure and winning in our job is really important. Winning like this and on a level like this is good for confidence. We’ve won three stages now: one with Rohan Dennis, the team time trial and now me. That’s great.”
Van Avermaet revealed that he did not know he had Sagan on his back wheel as he kicked for the line.
“It was a finish for me even if I knew it’d be hard,” he explained. “I saw that Sagan was up there and knew it would not be easy to beat him but I did it. I went for a along attack, I went early; I knew it would at least give me a chance. I didn’t know who was on my wheel but I kept going. I just hoped he didn’t come over me. Then when he came up next to me, I give it another acceleration. I was dead, really dead but I won.”
Advice for Sagan
Peter Sagan was quickly dubbed as 'the new Greg van Avermaet' on Twitter after he finished second yet again. The Belgian was asked if he had any advice for the Slovakian but he was too modest and too respectful towards Sagan to criticise him.
“It’s hard to give advice when you have the same problem,” Van Avermaet said with a smile.
“It’s really hard to win races like this, at such a high level. He’s just got to keep going for it and keep trying. He’s a great rider, one of the hardest to beat. He’s got a few second places, it’s true but he deserves respect. He’s always going for the win and tries to do everything. There’s no advice I can give him, except to just keep going for it. Like I do.”