Friday, March 13 was always going to be a complicated day for Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), with or without any bad luck. But he ended the day with a double personal victory: he won the uphill sprint in Arezzo at Tirreno-Adriatico and also secured a delay in the Belgian investigation into allegations that he worked with Dr Chris Mertens, who has been accused of giving illegal ozone treatment. The new hearing will now take place on April 16, allowing Van Avermaet to target all the cobbled Classics with BMC.
The news of the delay in proceedings came while Van Avermaet was racing on the roads of Tuscany and then, perhaps fired up by the news, he powered to victory on the paved streets of Arezzo historic centre, beating Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep). He took a double victory on the road, also pulling on the race leader’s blue jersey. He also ended his run of placings in major races and confirmed he will be a contender in this year’s Classics.
“I was thinking about it [the hearing] and thinking that the only good sign to give was to win a race,” Van Avermaet admitted in the post-stage winner’s press conference.
“I think it’s normal to think about stuff going on but I gave a good answer. I knew this stage suited me and that this day would come but I focused on the race and I’m happy that I showed I can win races like this.
“I can’t say too much because the case is going on, we’ll see how it goes. But I have nothing to hide, I’m confident that everything will happen and the truth will come out and that I’m free to race again. I didn’t really care about the date; it was better to prepare a good case. After the Classics is good so I don’t have to put too much energy on this and I can focus on my job. These extra weeks won’t make a big difference.”
Van Avermaet had already opted to ride Tirreno-Adriatico instead of attending the hearing and had targeted the stage to Arezzo.
“I looked at the stages of Tirreno-Adriatico and was confident for the third and fourth stages, this finish really suits me,” he said. “I also saw last year’s race when Phil [Gilbert] was third and I knew it was a good finish for me, even if there were some good guys to beat. I’ve been close this year but I’m happy to have finished it off. The team rode well and took me in good position, I’m really happy to have held people like Sagan off.”
Team leadership for the Classics
Van Avermaet’s victory also meant he shook off the mantle of eternal second, passing that weight to Sagan’s shoulders. The BMC team management has already made Van Avermaet its designated team leader for the cobbled Classics and now Van Avermaet has the results and conviction that he can challenge for a big win this spring.
“It’s important because I’m the leader of the team and you can only be a leader if you win races,” Van Avermaet said.
“I’ve been close in Flanders, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche, Qatar and Oman. You always try to win even if you end up second or third. Now I’ve finally got one, I’m really happy. I sprinted right to the line and didn’t put my arms up because I wanted to win and not lose it on the line with someone coming over me.
“I know in my head I can beat those guys but you have to show it. Fabian [Cancellara] beat me a few times in a sprint and Sagan is faster than me, but on an uphill finish and after a hard race I’m confident I can win. It’s perhaps never worked out before. But you have to keep trying and it’s always nice to see those guys in the results behind you.”
Van Avermaet will kick off his Classics campaign at Milan-San Remo. BMC does not have a designated sprinter and so he revealed that his dream scenario would be to go with an attack on the Poggio.
“Just winning the race would be a dream come true,” he said. “Perhaps getting with a good group over the Poggio would be a good scenario for me. I think I have the legs to get over it and I’m confident that I can sprint well in a small group. Sprinting and beating the guys I beat today would be a great victory for me.”
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