Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) will roll out of Compiegne to start Paris-Roubaix on Sunday morning with the number one dossard on his back and hoping to add another cobble to his collection. This time last year, Van Avermaet crowned an incredible Classics campaign with his first Monument victory at Paris-Roubaix.
While the run of success towards this year’s Roubaix has not been the same, Van Avermaet is hoping to become the first rider since Tom Boonen in 2009 to win back-to-back editions.
"I feel really good again. I'm happy that I've recovered from Flanders," Van Avermaet told the press in Compiegne on Saturday afternoon.
"It feels really good, I'm really happy to be here again. It was really a big goal for me to win a Classic like this and there are really big emotions for me here and I’m so happy that I’ve put this one on my palmarès and I hope that I can do it a second time on Sunday."
Van Avermaet was speaking to the press in a sun-soaked Place du Général de Gaulle as the teams were introduced to an eager crowd. Some cloud cover is expected for the race on Sunday but the weather will remain much the same, despite earlier predictions of rain. After huge amounts of mud covering the surface of the cobbles earlier in the week, the drying weather and rising temperatures have come as something of a relief for most of the peloton, Van Avermaet included.
"I think that this is the biggest thing compared to last week, to feel the heat again," Van Avermaet said. "I think that it can only be in my favour and can help me to feel a little bit fresher again and be a little fresher in the final.
"We did the recon on Friday and it had dried up a lot so I think it will be a dry parcours, which makes it safer and more honest. I think that a classic like Roubaix is hard enough to make the difference in the end. I think that we don’t need to ask for rain."
Last year's performance was always going to be a hard act to follow for Van Avermaet and thus it has proven to be with the collective might of Quick-Step an impenetrable barrier for all. Van Avermaet has still had a solid Classics campaign with third at E3 Harelbeke, eighth at Dwars door Vlaanderen and fifth at the Tour of Flanders last weekend.
Van Avermaet's rival Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac) was asked about his compatriot's condition. Vanmarcke responded by saying that Van Avermaet had lacked the punch of previous years, though his sprinting had improved. However, Van Avermaet denied this, saying that the two were one and the same and that it was the other teams' tactics that had made it more challenging to win this time around.
"I think that sprint and punch are the same. If I have to sprint on the climbs then I can do it," Van Avermaet explained. "I think I'm strong enough, but I think that there are more guys focusing on me and not helping me to go. That is what has made the difference. I go a few metres, a bloc, and then they stop racing. That’s how it goes and then we have a counter from Quick-Step. It's hard because they have three cards to play and most of the time I have one. That's how I get in a bad situation afterwards."
Van Avermaet is unlikely to get any favours on Sunday, but he will not be the only one hoping to find the secret to beating Quick-Step Floors this spring.