Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) has acknowledged that the changes to the Liège-Bastogne-Liège parcours increase his chances of success but is not yet committing to racing La Doyenne this year, with a decision to be made only after Amstel Gold Race the week before.
Van Avermaet’s natural terrain is the cobbles and bergs of the Flemish Classics but he is a better climber than most of his rivals for those races, meaning that his ambitions can stretch into the Ardennes of southern Belgium.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the hilliest and hardest Classic of the spring, and Van Avermaet, who has won medium mountain stages in the Tour de France and the Olympic title on a punishing Rio course, finished 12th two years ago and seventh in 2011.
Last month, the race organisers announced that they were scrapping the uphill finale in Ans and moving it to a flatter finish in the centre of Liège, a change that race director Christian Prudhomme has predicted will bring riders like Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan into the equation.
“It’s a super hard race, and now they’ve changed the finish, which is a bit in favour of me,” Van Avermaet acknowledged ahead of the Tour of Oman, his main Classics tune-up race.
“I was already hearing for quite a long time in the Belgian newspapers that they were going to change the parcours, but then you wait for the real release and the parcours. I know the region really well, I also have a house there. For me, it’s always a nice race but my qualities as a rider are more for Flanders. And also, I don’t have the palmares to say ‘I won Flanders three times and Roubaix three times, and I’m going to only focus on Liège’. First, we see how it goes in the Flemish Classics and if there’s something left I can decide what I want to do for Liège.”
Van Avermaet will make the decision after the Amstel Gold Race, which takes place the weekend before Liège in the last weekend of April. By then, it will already have been a long Classics campaign, starting with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the start of March.
“Nieuwsblad is not so far to go, and Liège is still seven weeks away. It’s a big period to reach. But some energy still has to be in the tank. You still need the freshness, that’s what’s missing sometimes. I will decide at Amstel. I’m not sure if I’m going to do it as well. Most of the time I was one of the only guys who tried to eat as much as possible… but sometimes it’s not possible.”
Van Avermaet has won two of the past three editions of Nieuwsblad, going on to dominate the rest of the spring in 2017, and explained that he needs to be strong from the start and strong throughout, rather than planning specific peaks.
“In 2017, which was the best year of my career, I managed to do well for as long as possible so I think I have it in me to have a big base and do a lot of good races. Of course, I would love to peak closer to Flanders and Roubaix, but every chance you have, you have to take it. That’s how I’m going to approach the Classics again. That’s my way of racing, I’m not the kind of guy who picks out one race.”