Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Racing Team) came away from his first summit finish of the season in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana on Thursday with a tenth place in the bag and a sense of satisfaction that even if the climb of Cullera was a little too tough for his liking, he remained on the right road for his bigger challenges later this year.
A stage winner on a technical but much easier summit finish at stage 3 of Valencia last February, this time around Van Avermaet crossed the line near Cullera's radar station, high above the town, a full nine places lower.
But he was only five seconds off the pace set by stage winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), and, in a small but important boost to the morale, he finished at the head of the first small pack of chasers behind those fighting for the day's victory.
"It was quite good, I saw the climb last week in training and I thought it was maybe going to be a bit too hard for me, but I had a nice try," Van Avermaet told Cyclingnews as he stood amidst the usual tumult of a summit stage finish, between deep swigs on a recovery drink.
"The pure climbers had their chance today but I just wanted to make a good effort for myself and for the next races."
In a five minute ascent like Cullera, it's rare for there to be more than one or two key moments in anybody's version of events. In Van Avermaet's case, his narrative of the day was to stay as close to the front as possible for as long as possible.
"I only got dropped very close to the top, the guys who we were expecting to be up there were up there, but I got quite close to following them. So that's good," he concluded.
Overall, Van Avermaet says, his condition is roughly the same at this point in the year as in 2019, and he's already stated his top goals are to be in good form for Het Nieuwsblad through to the Amstel Gold Race, the same races as in 2019.
Beyond that, of course, there's the distant target of the Olympic Games and defending his road-race title.
Back in the present, though, stage 4's brutally difficult five-kilometre ascent to Altea in Valencia is even less suited to the Belgian's talents than stage 2's uphill finish. But either way, the omens are good, and at this stage in the season, that's what matters the most.
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