At a particularly chilly 'opening weekend' in Belgium last week, Greg Van Avermaet made no secret that he sees cold weather as a disadvantage to him. At Strade Bianche on Saturday the cold combined with the rain and the BMC Racing rider admitted that the conditions affected him as he finished 34th, more than 13 minutes down on the winner.
It may seem strange for a hardy northern Classics rider to fret about the weather but, ominously perhaps, Van Avermaet was concerned in the build-up about the snow that had hit Europe and the rain that was forecast in Tuscany on Saturday.
"I hope the weather is okay because I do not love the cold that much, or the rain," he'd said earlier in the week.
As it turned out, it was both cold and wet, and the rain turned the eponymous strade bianche - the gravel roads - into sloppy mud tracks.
"My body couldn’t go deep in this weather, and my legs didn’t respond as I wanted," Van Avermaet said at the finish. "I was disappointed because I really like this race but there was nothing that I could do."
Van Avermaet, twice a runner-up at Strade Bianche, was touted as one of the big pre-race favourites. He was present and correct when the peloton split early on, but when the race exploded on the eighth sector of gravel, he quickly knew he wouldn't be returning to the podium.
"I simply did not have the legs to follow the best guys. As soon as they accelerated, I had to adjust. I could not go deep. At 50 kilometres from the finish, it was already clear. It was still agony to get here," he said.
"I was expecting a little better - not winning but still in the front group. But when they went I couldn’t respond. I felt okay all day but when it had to happen, I had no legs."
Asked how much of a role the conditions played, he added: "I have never been a specialist in such weather, and these were indeed extreme conditions. But then I would have expected better. I was just not right. I myself have no explanation for it. But when the good riders went, my race was over. At that point you should not look for excuses."
Van Avermaet now heads to Tirreno-Adriatico ahead of the main spring Classics period later in March. After winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and finishing second at Strade Bianche last year, he went on to dominate in the spring, though he said he's not worried about the way he's started his 2018 campaign.
"I will not lose heart," he concluded. "I hope it is down to the circumstances."
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