For CCC Team's Greg Van Avermaet, there's very little between success and failure when it comes to the Classics. A third place here, a rousing ride up the Kwaremont there; they ultimately mean little for a rider who defines his entire career by the number of Monument wins they can look back on upon retiring.
At present, Van Avermaet's tally stands at one, with a cobblestone from the 2017 edition of Paris-Roubaix nestled nicely on his mantlepiece. It's a meagre tally, some might say, given his diverse talents and years of service to the one-day cause, yet the 33-year-old remains relaxed ahead of this Sunday's 'Hell of the North' – his last cobbled appointment of the 2019 campaign.
"I'm confident that I can win," Van Avermaet said as he pulled to a standstill at the Roubaix velodrome after a recon ride on Friday.
"I'm at the right level, while some riders aren't there. I'm one of the favourites, but everything has to go perfectly. There's a possibility I won't win a Classic this season, but I can't regret anything because I've done everything right in preparation."
Van Avermaet has been around the block enough, and he knows full well that form can go out the window, especially at Roubaix, where the harshness of the cobbles are just as unforgiving no matter how many stars L'Equipe has awarded you on the morning of the race. A puncture at the wrong time, a touch of wheels, or even the briefest of moments on the wrong wheel can end a favourite's race in the blink of an eye.
One area in which Van Avermaet can at least count on is the unwavering support of his team. The CCC Team set-up is built around the Belgian's hopes and dreams, and there is no 'plan B' should he falter.
One of the themes of this year's Classics has been whether or not his team has been up to the job. They lack depth in certain areas but, for the most part, they have been solid rather than spectacular. There have been races when the Olympic king has been sitting alone on his throne, but the men in orange have been far from court jesters. And at any rate, Van Avermaet knows that it's ultimately his job to win, and his alone.
"They did quite well at the Tour of Flanders," he admitted in the company of a small press corps that included Cyclingnews.
"I've not lost a race because of my team this year. They were always quite good. OK, there were some races when they could have been better, but there's not a big difference. On the second time over the Kwaremont at Flanders, Michael Schär was there, which was really important, but then it's on me. For Sunday, we maybe have an even better team because we have bigger guys."
As in most spring campaigns, Van Avermaet has been there or thereabouts. He snatched second place at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad during Opening Weekend, took another podium finish at the E3 BinckBank Classic, and finished 10th at Flanders. He's been in the mix, but unable to land the blow required.
"I hope to make the difference by myself and have a gap. That didn't work at Flanders, but I don't know why. The race was hard enough, especially after the Muur, where I did a lot of work. It just didn't work. It was a strange Tour of Flanders, but the level of the riders is super high, as you can see if you look at someone like Kasper Asgreen, who is just a helper, but you saw how far he could go," Van Avermaet said of the young Danish Deceuninck-QuickStep rider who took second place at Flanders.
"Before it was just the leaders who could make the difference, but now you have 10 or 15 guys who can do it and have a good race. Everyone is super professional and on a super high level, but sometimes you can't look at one race. E3, for example, was a totally different race.
"I'm happy with my legs. I was really good at E3 and at Flanders. I couldn't make the difference in Flanders, but who could? Only Alberto Bettiol [EF Education First] could get away, so I have to be happy with my shape, even if I'm not that happy about the result. I'm here with Roubaix and Amstel Gold as goals, and I wouldn't want to change anything about my form.
"For me, it's always best if I can get away with some really strong riders because then I can get a good result. It just didn't work out like that at Flanders."
How Paris-Roubaix pans out is yet to be seen, but, as ever with Van Avermaet, it's all about winning when it comes to a stage this big.
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