Greg Van Avermaet has confirmed his race programme for 2019, his first season in the orange of the newly-rebranded CCC Team. The season will have a familiar feel to it, starting in Valencia before a near-complete programme of the Spring Classics, followed by the Tour de France and World Championships later in the season.
Van Avermaet will pin a dossard on for the first time at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana at the start of February, as he has done for the past two years since the Tour of Qatar ended.
Later that month, he will race the Tour of Oman and then in March the Classics begin, with the 'opening weekend' of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in Belgium followed by Strade Bianche in Italy. He will then line up at Tirreno-Adriatico for a less mountainous route that could see him in contention for a second overall title, before the big Spring Classics period that runs through Milan-San Remo and then onto the cobbles of E3-Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen, the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix.
Van Avermaet will then head to the Amstel Gold Race, the only one of the three Ardennes Classics on the programme. Having previously suggested a desire to develop his ability in hillier one-day races, most notably displayed with his Olympics title Rio in 2016, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is not on the agenda at this point in time.
"I've been there a few times, like two years ago, but also it was not planned to it. For the moment it only goes to Amstel then we will see how it goes. I would say there is always a chance I do Liège also but for the moment it’s not on the plan," he said during CCC's training camp in Denia, Spain, on Friday.
Van Avermaet dominated the Spring Classics in 2017 but, despite a string of high placings, was unable to find the winning touch this year.
"Winning is a must for me. It's the most important thing. It didn't work out this year but I always competitive in every race. I think next year I can win one or more Classic – it just has to all come good," he said.
As for the top of the priority list: "It's quite easy for me, it's Flanders. I say that every year and it never comes. It fits me the best, and I’ve been so many times on podium. It's not easy to make a choice, so I want to be good from Nieuwsblad to Amstel, so any race in between is good also."
Tour and Worlds
Van Avermaet will then take a break before gearing up for the Tour de France. He wore the yellow jersey this year, which, he said, can only have helped the team in their search for new sponsorship. He's aiming to do so again, though he knows that ambition will be complicated by the raft of departures from the team.
This July, Van Avermaet took yellow after BMC's victory in the early team time trial, and in 2019 again there's a TTT on stage 2. However, the team has lost much of the horsepower that made them such a dominant TTT outfit, including Stefan Küng and world champion Rohan Dennis.
"With BMC for sure it would again be possible. Now we have to prove ourselves capable of going good TTT's. The most important thing for yellow is that the team does a good performance in the TTT. Our first TTT will be in Tirreno so there we'll see if we're capable of competing with the best teams," Van Avermaet said.
"Of course the start in Belgium gives me motivation, and the Muur and Bosberg on the first stage is cool. The stage to Epernay is also good for me. I have a chance until Planche des Belles Filles [on stage 5]. Then afterwards I'll recalculate how things are going. Years ago I took the yellow jersey after going in a break, so it's also possible that way."
The latter part of the season will be focused on the World Championships, with the rolling Yorkshire parcours offering a rider like Van Avermaet – who won the Tour de Yorkshire this year – a chance to win the rainbow jersey.
"It's a good course for me, I like the distance, and it'll be a super hard race. It's good for me. Yorkshire is a race I love, it's a parcours that fits me and every time I go, I get good results. Let's hope I can show in a one-day race," he said.
"Probably sometimes I have really long seasons and miss extra freshness in the legs to win the Worlds. But again I'm going to try the combination with the Classics, Tour, then try and build up again to Worlds."