There might not be another rider in the peloton who has collected as many podium places as Greg Van Avermaet (BMC). Winning seems really hard for the 30-year-old Belgian rider. However, on Saturday Van Avermaet won his first-ever semi-classic in a spring campaign at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
After featuring in the decisive move on the Taaienberg nearly 60 kilometres from the finish he managed to finish it off in a sprint, beating world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff). Van Avermaet explained that he always kept belief that he was capable of winning in the Spring Classics.
“I kept trying and it worked out. I’m someone who doesn’t give up too quickly. I knew I was at the start in great form. I made the race. We rode away on the best moment. Everybody wanted to co-operate. That’s what makes the race nice. We kept working until Gent and I managed to finish it in the sprint,“ Van Avermaet said in the post-race press conference.
“This victory is very important if you see how many spectators were out on the roads, how much media attention there is. It’s very important for myself too. It’s the first important appointment of the season.”
It’s curious to see how many times Van Avermaet and Sagan clash with each other. They’re both ever-present in the Classics but both struggle to finish it off. Last year in a hot thirteenth stage of the Tour de France the duo both sprinted in Rodez. Van Avermaet emerged as a winner. At the World Championships in Richmond, the duo battled for the rainbow jersey, with Sagan eventually able to drop Van Avermaet and grab the title. Half a year later the pair were present again at a sunny, cold and windy edition of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. This time Van Avermaet came out victorious.
“For me, Rodez and the Omloop are different but they’re both important. Rodez was in summer, really warm, about 35 degrees. This was cold and the Classics season. It’s pretty important for me to win first Classics. It’s totally different. I can’t compare them. Maybe Sagan is two times second. It’s not comparable for me. This is a new season. I wasn’t thinking about Rodez. I’m happy that I finally could win a Classic like this. It was a few times close here and I know how hard it is to win Classics in the spring time. I’m really happy with it.”
Even though one would figure that Van Avermaet has morphed into a winner that didn’t really show at the post-race press conference in the ICC centre in Gent. “A winner? Let’s see. Maybe let’s talk in a few weeks [to see] how many victories I have. I’m going to enjoy the first one. Hopefully I start for more. For me it’s always pretty hard to win. We will see. Other seasons when I had a victory pretty fast I had a second and a third one. I always have to work for it. I know how hard it is to win a race like this but I’m pretty happy with what I did. Beating Sagan in a sprint like this only gives me more confidence and more support from the team. For me, it was a really important victory with what comes ahead. My main goal is still the Tour of Flanders. This one is already in my pocket. That’s the best conclusion I can make.”
Van Avermaet continued to explain that he always believed in his abilities as a sprinter, despite failing to finish it off in the past. “I’ve always said that I’m a strong sprinter. I think I’m fast after a hard race. I still believe in what I’m saying. I always say it to myself, also when I was second, when I was third... I was saying to myself that I could beat them if everything goes perfect. You have the strength to wait for your sprint. You can do it. Those two victories confirm this. It was right what I was thinking. You have to keep believing in yourself. One day it will come out.”
The start of the season went very well, according to the Belgian rider. He feels that he has improved compared to last year. “I think so. My preparation went pretty well. I was really happy with Qatar and Oman. I was always close there also. With a little bit of progression again. I’m 30 years old but still I feel like every year I’m a little bit better. You also see it in my way of racing. I always try to improve myself a little bit. I put it all together again today. I was pretty happy with how the race went. For me, I always get a little bit stronger. This gives me more confidence for Flanders.”
It was interesting to hear how Van Avermaet struggles to make BMC work as he wants them to. Team director Valerio Piva said he has to communicate more with his teammates. “I have to try to do it because I’m the team leader. The guys have to listen to me.
"I’m always pretty relaxed, maybe a little too relaxed in the race. I’m not a big fighter to be in position. I always take it easy and I will be there on the moment when it’s necessary, like when you see me on the Taaienberg; I will be there. I think this also gives confidence to the teammates. Sometimes they have to wait when I’m pretty far back in the peloton. This is my kind of racing. I can’t be focused the whole race. I try to save myself as much as possible. Then they have to stay with me. They still have to learn this a little bit more I think because they always want to be a bit too much in front.”