Call it destiny, call it fate, call it a right of passage, but next season Greg Van Avermaet will command an entire squad for the first time in his illustrious career. The 33-year-old Belgian will lead the charge for the as-yet-unnamed merger between his current BMC Racing team and Pro Continental outfit CCC Sprandi Polkowice, whose main sponsor will headline the new team.
And with the team's aspirations limited to the Classics, Van Avermaet's role will be central to the team's success.
"I think the most important thing is that we create a team around me, and everyone has to step up – even me. I have to do better than before, and that has to be the motivation," Van Avermaet told Cyclingnews in Canada ahead of Friday's GP Cycliste de Québec and Sunday's GP Cycliste de Montréal.
The nucleus of the team will be formed around Van Avermaet after several of BMC Racing's stage-race riders departed in the summer. The late arrival of a sponsor and the promise of a secure pay-cheque enticed the likes of Richie Porte, Rohan Dennis and Damiano Caruso to pastures new, while Stefan Küng and a volley of stage-race specialists also jumped ship.
In their place, the BMC Racing management have scoured the market for bargains and replacements. Patrick Bevin, Alessandro De Marchi, and Michael Schär are among those who've been retained, while Serge Pauwels and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck were picked up from rival teams.
"Those are the circumstances," said Van Avermaet. "A sponsor came pretty late, which wasn’t good to build a WorldTour team around, but I think that the Classics team is really strong.
"There are also other races, like Pais Vasco, Catalunya, the Vuelta a España – all races you need to fill with riders, so maybe the team isn't strong yet, but a lot depends still. Maybe we were a few weeks too late. Some guys were already gone and had signed contracts with other teams, but for me and the Classics squad, I don't foresee big problems. We have a pretty strong team. For sure, I feel more responsibility, and that I have to perform. I'm the identity for the team now, so it's important that I perform now."
Hitting the ground running
Van Avermaet's 2019 season will ultimately be judged on his results in the Classics. It's therefore imperative that the team hits the ground running and builds momentum as it approaches the spring Classics in March and April.
Such circumstances would be a daunting prospect for any first-year team, but Van Avermaet insists that the new squad has what it takes, based on the fact that a large portion of the BMC Racing management will remain in 2019.
"The big advantage that we have is that the team has existed for a long time," he said. "We have some new riders and some new staff members but the biggest part is that 75 per cent of the staff will stay and they know it works.
"Logistics-wise, there'll be no problems, and we'll be well prepared. I think fitting in the riders will be the most difficult problem, but some guys who have ridden for others in the past can maybe step up and give some better performances than some are expecting. It's a different team, and I don't think that the expectations around 'Team CCC' have to be too high.
"It's sad that we're seeing Jürgen Roelandts and Jempy Drucker leaving, but that's cycling," Van Avermaet continued. "If there are better contracts somewhere else, then it's hard to keep riders. The problem was that we didn't have the security earlier on in the season and I can completely understand why some didn't wait. But I think that we've made some good signings, in particular with Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, who is, for me, one of the big talents in Belgium.
"The problem was that we didn't have many options left. There were some good guys performing well, like Michael Valgren," said Van Avermaet, referring to the Danish rider who will move from Astana to Dimension Data next season. "And there were some other young guys, but we didn't have those options left.
"It's the same with GC. Richie had left already, and Caruso, Küng and Dennis. We were trying to keep the guys we had, but if you look at those guys I've named, they're at a super-high level. For me it was a bit sad that we couldn't keep them – especially someone like Küng, who can help in the Classics and then also in the team time trials. He's still young, too. It's sad to see those guys leaving."
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