Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was the first major test for Greg Van Avermaet and for his new CCC outfit. The 33-year-old Belgian rider was asked a lot whether his new team would be strong enough to support him at the Spring Classics, and halfway through the race on Saturday afternoon, the CCC team was confronted with a lot of problems when a large elite group rode away without any of their riders in it.
Van Avermaet will have been pleased to see that his teammates had enough in their tank to turn the situation around in a 20km-long pursuit. The Olympic champion was then ever-present when the race kicked off on the cobbles of Mater where Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-QuickStep) accelerated and he was up there, too, when the Jumbo-Visma team forced the pace at the narrow cobbled Molenberg climb.
On the Elverenberg-Vossenhol, Van Avermaet helped to force the decisive move shortly after a crash from Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal). Only eventual winner Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) and former teammates Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) and Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe) could follow his wheel.
Van Avermaet upped the pace again when climbing the famous Muur. On the Bosberg, the final climb of the day, he accelerated again but Stybar was glued on his wheel and the rest of the group weren't too far back.
"I felt good all day long and I ended up being in the situation that I wanted to be in," Van Avermaet said. "Obviously, you want to be heading to the finish with as few riders as possible, but I was unable to shake them off straight away. Still, I felt strong enough to win the sprint but you know that there's going to be some attacks. Tim [Wellens] went on the right-hand side of the road and I had to make a serious effort in the wind.
"The moment that I bridged back up, Stybar attacked. I immediately tried to get back on his wheel, but my legs were full of acid. Then it was over. Everybody was suffering but they knew I couldn't close all the gaps back down. I hoped that especially Lutsenko – who was super strong – would react."
Van Avermaet brought back counter-attacks from Dylan Teuns and then won the sprint for second place. "You know that once the gap is there, the race is over. It's bitter because I felt like I could've won but there's nothing you can do about it now. Right now, there's a lot of disappointment because I started the race to win," Van Avermaet said. "I felt good all week long. I expected a lot from this race. Today, there's mostly disappointment but tomorrow that might be less the case."
Van Avermaet isn't scheduled to race Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday. His next race is next week’'s Strade Bianche, where he finished as runner-up in 2017.
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