Van Avermaet: I’m the joker at the World Championships

Greg Van Avermaet says that the odds are against him winning the elite men’s road race at the 2018 UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck on Sunday. He admitted the decisive final climb over Höll doesn’t suit his characteristics as a puncheur, but he’s still going to take his chances as a wildcard.

“I saw the course this week, and it’s going to be super hard,” Van Avermaet told Cyclingnews. “I don’t have to be too ambitious about my Worlds but I’m going to start, and I’m going to have a chance.

“I don’t feel any pressure – like maybe in other years when they were really good courses for me – now I’m here to prepare myself as good as possible. I’m in good shape. I think on this course we have other favourites, other than riders like me, but we’ll see how it goes.”

The elite men will race 258.5km on a parcours that includes one long loop from Kurstein and takes the field up to Gnadenwald, a steep 5km ascent. They then descend onto the six shorter circuits around Innsbruck, routed over the climb to Igls.

The toughest challenge is at the end of the race, where the course kicks up over the final Höll climb, with pitches as steep as 25 per cent, before the descent to the finish line in downtown Innsbruck.

“I saw the climb, and it’s super hard, probably too hard for me,” Van Avermaet said. “It will be good for super light climbers or even puncheurs who do well at races like Liège-Bastogne-Liege or Il Lombardia. It favours them more so than the big Classics guys of Flanders and Roubaix.

“My chance for winning is small, but I have a chance, and I will see how far I can come.”

Defending champion Peter Sagan and many other riders used the Vuelta a España to prepare for this hilly World Championships, but Van Avermaet crossed the Atlantic to race the two Canadian WorldTour races in Quebec and Montreal. He showed good end-of-season form finishing second and third, respectively, both times behind Michael Matthews.

“I hope I can carry that form into Worlds, yes, because I think I was in good shape and was good at the Canadian races, and Worlds is always something special,” he said.

Van Avermaet is joined by a team of wildcard contenders in Tiesj Benoot, Tim Wellens and Dylan Teuns, along with Laurens De Plus, Ben Hermans, Xandro Meurisse and Serge Pauwels.

“I think we have a great team,” he said. “Benoot was good at the last race [Tour de l'Eurométropole]. Wellens is in good shape, and Dylan was strong at the Vuelta.

“We have a strong team, even though we might not have a favourite because those guys have never really… they showed that they are capable of doing something good, but they're not the same kind of a rider as someone like [Julian] Alaphilippe.

“I think we have a strong team, and we all have a chance, and we will see how we can come.”

Belgium could decide to race aggressively and try to form both early and late-race breakaways that would be in their favour, but Van Avermaet chose not to reveal his team’s specific race strategy.

“We haven't talked about the tactics yet, but I think all of our riders will be free to make their own choices during the race. It’s important to know how you’re feeling inside the race itself,” he said.

“For sure, we need to keep somebody for the final; we always need one last card to play just in case it all comes back together. We haven’t decided who that rider is yet."

Asked if he could be that last card to play, Van Avermaet said he would decide his position on the team based on how he feels during the race.

"I’m starting the Worlds as a joker. I’m not going to be the team leader. They can decide how to race, and they don’t have to protect me. And even I’m feeling bad; I will support them as best as possible.

"I will decide during the race. I won’t make my tactics clear, but I will have to feel it by myself and see how far I can come. We will see how it goes. I have a chance.”

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