For so long the nearly man of cycling, Greg Van Avermaet has enjoyed a the form of his life in 2016 and won’t settle for anything less than victory at the Tour of Flanders this Sunday. Van Avermaet has been on the podium in his last two participations, taking a second and third place but he now has the taste of success, and he likes it.
“If I’m second or third I will be disappointed. I’m not happy anymore with second or third places,” he said during a press conference at the BMC hotel. "If I give it all and then you’re second or third it is like it is but you’re still disappointed because my only goal is winning those classics and if I’m not there, then it’s just not good enough.”
Van Avermaet is a man full of confidence at the moment, after winning the overall classification at Tirreno-Adriatico and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad already this month. “I know I can beat strong guys and I know I finish races like that,” said Van Avermaet. “It gives me confidence that if we come in a sprint with four or five guys, which is a possibility in Flanders that I can win. The more you come into this situation, the more you learn and the better it is.”
The success means that the pressure has also amped up for Van Avermaet, along with the expectations. That doesn't show, and he was the picture of calm during the team’s morning recon and the press conference in the afternoon. His path to the Tour of Flanders has not been so easy, and a stomach problem set him back. It forced him to sit out of E3 Harelbeke last Friday, a key test for the favourites. There were some promising signs with his ninth place at Gent-Wevelgem and there was never any doubt in his mind that he wouldn’t be present in Bruges this Sunday.
“I love racing in Flanders and it was a hard decision to make [not to race E3 Harelbeke]. Those two races, Flanders and Roubaix, are more important and I was getting sick. I was happy that it wasn’t too big and I was never thinking about not starting in Flanders,” Van Avermaet explained. “It went pretty well [at Gent-Wevelgem], I was close to the front group. My climb on the Kemmel gives me confidence because I wasn’t feeling great but I was still up there, and I was happy that I rode this race. It was 240km and I was ninth so it wasn’t too bad in the end. I should be better this Sunday.”
As is par for the course in many pre-race press conferences, the list of favourites was a keen topic of discussion. Van Avermaet named several potential contenders, including fellow Belgians Tiesj Benoot and Sep Vanmarcke, plus the Etixx-QuickStep and Sky teams in general, but he sees two men on a level of their own. Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan were two of the standout performances last weekend and they are the riders to beat in Van Avermaet’s eyes.
“Fabian and Peter will be the most important,” he said. “Maybe if I had a normal weekend last week then I would put myself on the same level as them but they were really strong last weekend and I was not really there. I think that they’re a little bit above me but there’s always these things about who is going to be the guy who will win Flanders. In the end, it’s just about Sunday and the race will decide who will win Flanders.”
The new confident Van Avermaet is not afraid of his two rivals and is not worried about finding himself alone with them on the final ascent of the Paterberg. “It’s a perfect situation,” he laughed. “For me, the Paterberg is the climb I love the most and it’s a climb I’m confident in and I feel really good on. If you want to win Flanders, you have to be in the first group otherwise, it won’t happen. I hope to be there in the first group and I don’t care who is with me. If I’m on my own, then it is also good.”