Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) produced another fine performance on the dirt roads of Strade Bianche, but he was a bridesmaid again on the podium along with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) as Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) won the ninth edition of cycling’s newest Spring Classic.
Van Avermaet cracked Valverde, who was widely considered the favourite to win in such tough finish in the historic centre of Siena, attacking on the steep ascent. However, his charge left him with nothing left to stop Stybar edging him past him over the top and diving into the last corner first to win.
"I was always in a pretty good position and I had the legs to be there in the final. I got second but I’m pretty happy with my race," Van Avermaet said brushing off any disappointment.
"I knew it’d be hard to attack Valverde on a climb like that but I tried to give it a go and surprised him with a good effort. I was surprised that I was first to the top but then I saw Stybar on my wheel, and then he passed me. I was just not strong enough to pass him back…."
Despite defeat, Van Avermaet had no regrets about his race and insisted he enjoyed fighting on the dirt roads and the strong winds that blew across the spectacular Tuscany countryside.
"For me it’s one of the nicest races of the year. That’s why I prefer to miss Paris-Nice and ride this race," he said.
"This year it was pretty hard with the side winds and even pretty dangerous in some parts because we didn’t have the grip on the front wheel and so could slip out. But the dirt roads are really good, and the landscapes are amazing. The best riders are always at the front too, so it’s a nice race, a nice Classic."
No show at Belgian disciplinary hearing
Van Avermaet faces a disciplinary hearing with the Belgian Cycling Federation on Friday March 13 concerning his links to Doctor Chris Mertens. However, he confirmed that he will not attend the hearing in person, preferring to send his lawyer to fight for delay in proceeding so that he can focus on his training and preparation for the spring Classics.
The Belgian doctor is under investigation for allegedly providing ozone therapy, a controversial treatment where blood is extracted, infused with ozone and then re-injected. The process has been purported to help clear certain infections, but is dangerous, and there is no scientific evidence for any benefits of ozone therapy. Any blood manipulation is banned under the WADA anti-doping code. The BMC team has confirmed it has opened an internal investigation, but no decision has been made to remove Van Avermaet from active status.
"I’m going to stay here in Italy for Tirreno so that I can have good preparation and have more time to look at my case," Van Avermaet said.
"My lawyer will represent me, and we’ll try to cancel it and to get another date because we’ve only had ten days to prepare and in this kind of case, that’s not enough. I’m happy to attend a hearing during the Classics, just not during my preparation. I can do it wherever they want just not during my races."