Greg van Avermaet (BMC) has named himself as leader of the Belgian team for Sunday's road race at the UEC European Championships in Glasgow, insisting he is not afraid to go mano a mano with Peter Sagan and ride aggressively to avoid a sprint finish that would favour defending champion Alexander Kristoff and Italy's Elia Viviani.
"The jersey is a major goal," he told Het Nieuwsblad, promising to wear black shorts with the mostly white jersey if he manages to win the 16-lap 230km race in the Glasgow city centre circuit.
"The shape is good. I have come out of the Tour de France and have recovered from the Clasica San Sebastian which is on a difficult course. My form can't have gone after just a week and I got a course that seems tailored made for me. I'm very motivated to make the best of it on Sunday."
In 2016, again two weeks after the Tour de France, Van Avermaet was on form and won the gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games.
"In the Tour you always go a bit deeper than you can go in training and that makes for a super compensation two weeks later. I hope the same scenario repeats itself, that's why the title European is a goal," he explained.
With so many important WorldTour races in August, van Avermaet had to push hard to get permission from his BMC team to target the European Championships. Thanks to a special charter flight organised by the BinckBank Tour organisers, he and several other riders will fly to Netherlands on Sunday night, in time to ride Monday's opening stage to Bolsward north of Amsterdam and the remaining six stages in the weeklong WorldTour stage race.
"Even though the European Championship is not yet so highly regarded in road racing, it's a nice race, so I insisted with the team to ride it," van Avermaet explained.
"I didn't ride last year because I knew I couldn't win on the course in Herning but this year is different. You have to try to take your chances and we don't get many chances to win a special jersey. I'm not a favourite for the tough World Championships in Innsbruck, so I wanted to take my chances here."
Van Avermaet knows he will be a marked man but will also be watching his rivals, many of whom he knows from the spring Classics and the more recent Tour de France.
"There are still some good teams riding; the Germans with Degenkolb, the Italians with Colbrelli and Viviani and then there's Sagan. The British will also want to perform at home," he warned.
The eight-rider Belgian team also includes world cyclo-cross champion Wout van Aert, Jasper Stuyven, Dimitri Claeys, Xandro Meurisse, Tosh van der Sande, Dries Van Gistel and Jelle Wallays.
Van Aert and Stuyven are both possible leaders and winners but Van Avermaet was quick to claim team leadership.
"If I were to ride for BMC on a course like this, I'd be the leader and we would also take control of the race. We'll be riding to win," Van Avermaet promised.
"I think I have proven the most but I think that Jasper Stuyven and Wout van Aert can be there with me. Jasper came out of the Tour de France very well and Wout won a race last week. It's no disadvantage if you can play multiple pawns. It's about entering the finals with as many Belgians as possible. Then you are tactically stronger."
Van Avermaet warned against allowing the sprinters and their teams to control the race, knowing that the Belgians must try to make the likes of Sagan, Viviani and Degekolb suffer on the rolling city centre circuit. Rain and cool temperatures are expected for much of the day.
"It's always better to avoid going up against riders like Kristoff, Viviani and Degenkolb; the smaller the group, the better. Of course, if I have to race against Sagan man against man, I'm not really afraid," Van Avermaet concluded, making his intentions very clear.
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