Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) says that he's not concerned with which Monument he can add to his palmares this season, just as long as he does it. Van Avermaet laid claim to his first Monument win last year when took victory in a dramatic Paris-Roubaix.
"I try to be good from Het Nieuwsblad to Amstel and, in the end, I don’t care. I would like to win one of those big races in between and which one is not that important as long as I win one of those," Van Avermaet told Cyclingnews. "The three Monuments Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are the most important, and we will see how they go."
Van Avermaet is currently in the Middle East for the Tour of Oman, having started his season at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. The Belgian is leading the BMC Racing team, which also has Nicolas Roche for the general classification, and while he will be looking for a first stage win at the six-day race, preparing for the Classics is the key.
"As I do every year, I try to build up some shape and hopefully I can get back into my peak shape for all the Classics," he explained.
Van Avermaet's development into being a regular winner has been well documented over the past three season. Even with the Olympic gold medal, his stints in yellow at the Tour de France and the stage wins, the 2017 spring Classics were another breakthrough for him.
Along with his win at Paris-Roubaix, Van Avermaet impressed in almost every race he contested in the spring of 2017. That dominance has boosted his confidence even further, which he hopes will make for a less stressful and even more successful Classics campaign this year.
"It was important for me, finally I had a really super good Classics season. I have been up there for many years but never really winning big things in the Classics," he said. "For me, it was a really big thing for my confidence and also for the team. Now, I'm much more relaxed, which should help me. I found it [was like that] last year after I won the Olympic title and some stages of the Tour. It was really nice for me to be a little less stressed and I hope that it helps me to do a good Classics season."
One thing that Van Avermaet was not able to lay his hands on was the Tour of Flanders trophy. After dramatically crashing out in 2016, he had another spill in the finale of last year’s edition. He was able to get up and carry on, but what slim chance he had of catching Philippe Gilbert went up in smoke as he lay in a heap on the cobbles.
Van Avermaet has made no bones about Flanders being his favourite race, he is a Flandrien after all, but he told Cyclingnews that he wouldn't swap any of his wins last year for the Tour of Flanders title.
"Maybe you can give something away if you’ve won Roubaix three times or something and then maybe you might say that I’d swap it for one Flanders,” said Van Avermaet. “But, of all the races that I won, it was only Nieuwsblad that I'd won before. For me, this was a big step in my career and now I have to take another step, which will be winning another Monument. That is what I'm focused on now, and hopefully, it can come this year. Flanders for sure is the most important race and the closest to home. I hope to be good there again."
New teammates for the spring
If Van Avermaet is to win his home race, he will have to do it with a new-look back-up team. After enjoying a certain level of stability for several years, Van Avermaet lost Daniel Oss and Manuel Quinziato over the winter – the former moving to Bora-Hansgrohe and the latter retiring.
There have been some changes, but Van Avermaet says that some of the others will have to step up their game too.
"I think that we've made some good replacements like Jürgen Roelandts and then guys like Stefan Küng will have to stand up and do a good final," he explained. "I think that they are capable of doing it and compared to last year we are a strong team. The most important thing is that the leader is good and I hope to be up there too."
Riding on a wave of success, Van Avermaet chose to extend his Classics campaign into Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He enjoyed it but tells Cyclingnews that it has been shelved for the foreseeable future.
"I think Amstel is already something that other riders don't do. I always try to go to Amstel, which is a big effort for a Classics rider, but no Liege anymore."
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