For AG2R Citroën's Classics pairing of Greg Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen, it was another day to forget at Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen, a race marked by crashes and punctures for the Belgian duo.
Van Avermaet was the teams' best finisher at the Flanders warm-up, finishing in 16th place at 3:48 down on winner Mathieu van der Poel. The result was the best the AG2R leaders had managed during the recent run of cobbled Classics, having earlier finished a promising third and fourth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
For Van Avermaet it was a puncture which saw him miss out on a good placing at Dwars. He had missed the winning move that went on the Berg Ten Houte with 70km to go but was part of the chase group including Tadej Pogačar who eventually sprinted for ninth and 10th places.
The 36-year-old explained how he lost contact with the group – which also included Jan Tratnik, Valentin Madouas, Bryan Coquard, and Søren Kragh Andersen – just before the Nokereberg at 22km to go.
"I already hit something and then when I rode the cobblestones before Nokereberg [Doorn], my tube at the front deflated," Van Avermaet explained to Het Nieuwsblad (opens in new tab).
"It's too bad because I felt I was getting better as the race went on. The course of De Ronde suits me even better, so that makes me hopeful," he added, referring to Sunday's Tour of Flanders.
Van Avermaet has achieved strong results at Flanders in recent years, having finished in the top 10 every year but one dating back to 2012, including four podium placings. He said that continuing that run would be a good outcome on Sunday.
"I don't want to express impossible ambitions," he said. "I shouldn't delude myself - I'll fall short of the win. But I'm hoping for a nice result, and in that regard anything more than a spot in the top 10 would exceed my expectations."
His teammate and co-leader Naesen has picked up two seventh places at Flanders in recent years, but will now be working to recover from a crash on Wednesday. With just over 50km to go, he was caught in a nasty crash with several other riders, ending his race.
Scans revealed that Naesen had avoided any fractures, but he has suffered multiple abrasions to his left shoulder and knee. It's another blow for the 31-year-old, who had already suffered disruption to his spring after falling ill at Paris-Nice.
"I'm still as stiff as a board," Naesen told Het Nieuwsblad after the race. "I'll have to keep going to the physiotherapist until Flanders."
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.