One of the quiet men of Belgian cycling, Greg Van Avermaet is happy to maintain a low profile as the biggest day of his season approaches at the Tour of Flanders. There is an obvious trio of favourites – Boonen, Cancellara and Sagan – but in the various lists of names touted as dark horses, Van Avermaet’s does not feature with the same frequency as the likes of Terpstra, Vanmarcke and Thomas.
“I think I didn’t have the great result, like top 3 or something,” Van Avermaet said on by way of his explanation for his relatively long odds. “But I feel like I’m able to follow the good guys. Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m not up there with the bookmakers because I was already a lot of times in the top five with the bookmakers and I never won the race. Maybe now it’s a little different and it’s not a bad position to be in.”
At Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February, Van Avermaet looked set to underline his credentials as a Ronde contender when he broke clear with Ian Stannard (Sky) in the finale, but suffering from the cold conditions, he surprisingly lost out to the Englishman in the two-up sprint in Ghent’s Sint-Pietersplein.
The disappointment at the result was tempered in part by satisfaction at the performance – afterwards, manager Allan Peiper insisted BMC’s glass was more than half-full – and Van Avermaet has been buoyed, too, by being handed sole leadership of the team for the cobbled classics. He views the role as an opportunity rather than a burden.
“The pressure is there, but it was there last year too,” he said. “It feels a bit better now, actually, because all the support is for me. It’s a nice feeling to have a team working for me.”
Van Avermaet’s 10th place finish at last E3 Harelbeke was followed by a crash at Gent-Wevelgem – “I took two days to recover,” he said – but he believes he is ready for the Tour of Flanders, where he acknowledged that it will be essential to pre-empt Fabian Cancellara’s anticipated attack in the finale.
“I think Fabian is one of the strongest guys and when he goes on the last time on the Kwaremont it will be hard to follow,” Van Avermaet said. “But it’s hard to say now, you have to see in the race.”
Last year, Van Avermaet’s former Lotto teammate Jürgen Roelandts showed invention to slip away on the penultimate ascent of the Paterberg, He then had the legs to stay with Cancellara – briefly – and Peter Sagan when they joined him in the finale, and eventually finished in third place. Van Avermaet acknowledged that Roelandts’ early attack was a template worth considering but pointed out that it was a difficult move to execute.
“It was a really good move but it’s not so easy to make it,” said Van Avermaet, who said he would have tried to join Roelandts had he not found himself boxed in. “I know the moment when he went but if you hesitate five seconds, it’s gone. It’s not like someone comes with a sign and says ‘this is the moment.’”
A rider such as Roelandts or Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) could be a useful ally of circumstance for Van Avermaet as he looks to upset the Cancellara-Boonen-Sagan triumvirate, but the tumult of the Tour of Flanders has the tendency to soften even the most rigid of tactical plans. “Maybe we could work something out but it’s easy to say that and a lot harder to do,” he said.
Van Avermaet’s best results at the Tour of Flanders have come since the finish line moved to Oudenaarde, even though he has made little secret of his preference for the old finale over the Muur and Bosberg. Nonetheless, he is glad of the tweaks to the parcours this year, with more climbs – including the Koppenberg – placed between the final two ascents of the Oude Kwaremont.
“The last lap is a little bit bigger and more open than last year, a bit more attractive. There are some other climbs after the second time up the Kwaremont,” he said. “I think it’s a nice change. They make it hard but there’s a chance to make some attacks and I like the new parcours compared to last year.”
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