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Greg Van Avermaet: Oliver Naesen made move to AG2R an easier choice

SANREMO ITALY AUGUST 08 Start Podium Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium and CCC Team during the 111st Milano Sanremo 2020 a 305km race from Milano to Sanremo MilanoSanremo MilanoSanremo on August 08 2020 in Sanremo Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) at the 2020 Milan-San Remo (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The transfer window officially opened at the start of the month, and one of the biggest moves announced so far is that of Greg Van Avermaet, who will move from CCC Team to AG2R La Mondiale in 2021, ending a 10-year association with Jim Ochowicz's team.

He'll link up with fellow cobbled Classics specialist and friend Oliver Naesen at the French squad, which will be known as AG2R Citroën, and has spoken about his confidence in their future partnership.

"The fact that Oliver is at AG2R made it easier for me to make this choice," he told Het Laatste Nieuws. "It's nice that I'm going to ride together in the team with the man I train with every day when I'm in Belgium.

"I don't think [co-operation] will be a problem. We know each other, we know each other's strengths and we want to go through fire for each other. But more important is how good we will be. We will first have to be on top form ourselves, then we can start thinking about how we want to tackle the races tactically."

Van Avermaet, who has signed a three-year deal with AG2R ("a sign of confidence" in his abilities), will make the move from CCC along with Michael Schär, while his soigneur, Geert Tiebergyn, also joins. He'll also be with Naesen's brother, Lawrence, and new signing Gijs Van Hoecke – both already part of Van Avermaet's long-time training group.

When you add in Alexis Gougeard and Silvan Dillier, it already looks like a strong Classics squad, with two top leaders who can provide a variety of options. Van Avermaet said that he thinks his new team will be able to compete with the Deceuninck-QuickStep powerhouse, as well as the relatively new Classics stars, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix). 

That group of familiar faces at AG2R will make the move easier after such a long time in the BMC/CCC setup, while the rumoured arrival of BMC as a bike supplier – which team boss Vincent Lavenu remains coy about but Van Avermaet has seemed to confirm – will also help.

"I'm going to a team that is well-organised," he said. "The French style may be a bit of a culture shock compared to the American one, but AG2R is a permanent fixture. The only downside used to be the materials, but with the arrival of BMC, that is now also top-notch."

Van Avermaet has raced on BMC bikes for a decade, having been with Ochowicz's team since it joined the top division of racing back in 2010. The 2018 search for a new title sponsor ended in July after several big names had headed elsewhere, but the 35-year-old stuck around, signing on for three more years.

With the team likely to fold at the end of the year, barring efforts from Ochowicz, Van Avermaet will only end up serving two-thirds of his contract. He says that in the end, he'll only be paid for less than half of it after the 50 per cent pay cuts agreed back in May.

"I'm confident – I will not experience what I am experiencing now. I signed with CCC for three years, but, in the end, I will only receive my full monthly salary for one year and three months."

AG2R La Mondiale was Van Avermaet's first choice when he realised the prospects of CCC continuing was low, although he would have stayed if a sponsor had come on board, adding that he feels at home there.

Israel Start-Up Nation also expressed interest, but neither of the two big Belgian squads – Deceuninck-QuickStep or Lotto Soudal, the latter his team from 2007 to 2010 – were linked to his signature. That was a disappointment, but his commitment to AG2R La Mondiale is full, he said.

"When I knew that CCC was over, AG2R was immediately at number one. This is the team where I see myself racing," he said. 

"In a way, it's a shame, because I think I am still the most interesting, publicity-wise, for a Belgian sponsor. But they should not doubt my motivation at AG2R. I want to continue my career here, hopefully with a few more big victories."