Greg Van Avermaet took the race leader' blue jersey on stage 2 of Tirreno-Adriatico but he was not satisfied with his day after team tactics and the flow of the race in the finale of the stage left him unable to win in Pomarance.
The Olympic road race champion was hoping for a double success on the rolling finale, and the stage victory was his biggest goal for this race as he builds up for the spring Classics.
The Belgian popped the spumante on the podium but his disappointment was evident when he spoke to the media at the race. "The most important thing was the stage win and I'm a bit disappointed because I had legs to do better," he said.
His BMC Racing Team had Damiano Caruso in the leader's blue jersey after winning Wednesday's team time trial, but Van Avermaet was expected to take it from the Italian as a consequence of a better placing on the stage. BMC's master plan was to win the stage and take the jersey.
However, the finale of the stage proved to be far more aggressive than most teams expected, with Geraint Thomas' attack changing the outcome in spectacular fashion.
Thomas made his move with less than five kilometres to go on the rolling climb up to Pomarance in the hills of Southern Tuscany. Caruso, Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) and Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) went across to him but then Thomas kicked away again as the quartet hesitated. Caruso was unable or unwilling to go after the Welshman, but his presence up front meant Van Avermaet was stuck behind.
"The situation with Geraint (Thomas) ahead and Caruso in the group behind him blocked me a little. It was hard to change the race with our guy in the middle," Van Avermaet said.
"It didn't matter if they stayed clear because Caruso could have won the stage and kept the jersey. But he lost Geraint and so then you had to defend. When it goes like that you know your race is over."
Van Avermaet was strong on the climb to the finish and the group caught Caruso, Jungels and Castroviejo. Van Avermaet finished fourth, nine seconds down on Thomas and behind late attacker Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), who beat him to the line in the sprint.
Van Avermaet didn't openly criticise Caruso, instead, he kicked himself for missing out. For years Van Avermaet was considered the friendly nearly-man. Now he is overtly ambitious and wants to win whenever he can.
"It's hard for me because I was ambition to win but that's how it goes. When you know you're riding for second place, it means you're disappointed if you don't win. Being leader is nice but I know I'll lose the jersey on Saturday," he said.
After numerous near-misses, 2016 was a banner year for Van Avermaet, who won Olympic gold last year and is a back-to-back winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. He has 28 wins on his palmares but has still to win a so-called Monument Classic such as Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders on home roads in Belgium or Paris-Roubaix.
"I made a big step last year and want to do same this year. I was one of strongest in rankings in the WorldTour. I'm one of best Classics riders and accept my responsibility. I want to win races."
Despite fracturing his ankle in a mountain bike crash in November, he has had an excellent winter and early season and feels he is on track to win big this spring.
"We had a good start to the season but the most important thing is the Classics. That's where I'm going to have to perform and where the team expects me to be good," he pondered.
"I want to win one of the big Classics. I was once always there in the big Monuments, taking second and third but now I want to now win one of them."
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