Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) finished in third place in the E3 BinckBank Classic on Friday afternoon. In the five-man sprint in Harelbeke, Van Avermaet didn't have enough left in the tank to hold off eventual winner Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). It'll be a morale-boosting performance for Van Avermaet and his CCC team ahead of the upcoming series of races: Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields, Dwars door Vlaanderen, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Amstel Gold Race.
After a disappointing performance in Milano-San Remo where he was unable to feature in the decisive move on the Poggio, Van Avermaet was too disappointed to talk with the media straight after the race, in contrast to his usual availability. Straight away, question marks were raised in the Flemish media and possibly, Van Avermaet had some doubts, too.
With a good performance in the E3 BinckBank Classic, Van Avermaet knows that his form is where it should be for the upcoming two to three weeks.
"I did everything I could to position myself for the finale and although, of course, I wanted to win, it is also good to be on the podium again. I know that the Tour of Flanders is the race that suits me the most so, I can take confidence knowing that I am good at the moment and hopefully, the best is yet to come," Van Avermaet said afterwards.
Van Avermaet's Tiegemberg acceleration costs Naesen and Sagan
Van Avermaet was always marking the moves on the multiple climbs, the hellingen, and late in the 204km-long loop from Harelbeke back to Harelbeke, the 33-year-old Belgian rider hit out hard on the Tiegemberg at 20km from the finish.
A star-studded group of eleven riders chased leader Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-QuickStep) but Van Avermaet felt there was too much dead-weight in the group. "I did my move on the Tiegemberg because the group wasn’t working well together. They were always the same guys who were co-operating and the same guys who were skipping the turns. [Jens] Keukeleire wasn't going flat out. It started to piss me off. We were riding flat out, but with Stybar on the wheels. It was the only way to be able to win the race. It wasn't bad," Van Avermaet told Sporza in the tv-studio. Training partner Oliver Naesen (AG2R) and Peter Sagan (Bora Hansgrohe) were among the riders who were dropped from the favourites group.
Stybar was still able to sit on the wheels from Van Avermaet, Van Aert and Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) as his teammate Jungels was still up the road, more than 20 seconds ahead. "We were going full gas with three strong riders and still we had to scratch to the bottom of the tank to bring him back. It’s their strength that they have four strong riders in front. It’s the only team that is capable to do that," Van Avermaet told Sporza.
"It was always going to be hard to beat Stybar. He was the freshest and had the legs in the sprint. Already when he attacked in the finale, it was hard to bring him back. I don't think I can have any regrets after my performance today," Van Avermaet said.
Leader protects CCC teammates
When asked by Sporza if he didn't lack support in the approach to the Paterberg, Van Avermaet protected his teammates. "It's always better to have a few guys leading you out but that’s a luxury we don't have for the moment. Everybody knows that you've got to turn up the Paterberg inside the top-two and that's where I was.
"The guys did the best they can. I hoped that one guy would be able to ride the finale and Schär did that reasonably well. We hoped that Wisniowski would be able to get further but that isn’t the case for the moment. They’re doing the best they can and I’m not going to break them down. They all worked hard to be good these days. It’s up to me to perform good too," Van Avermaet told Sporza.
"Michi Schär did a great job pulling and setting a really fast pace to stretch the peloton out, and Nathan [Van Hooydonck] and Kamil [Gradek] were also there to position me well. I was feeling good all day and once Michi pulled off, I knew it was a good moment to try and split the bunch. There were too many guys still there and if we wanted to bring Jungels back, we needed a smaller group. Once that front selection was made, we were only turning with three riders and the group behind was coming back, so I knew I had to make another move. There were guys just sitting on so when I attacked and we were just with the four chasing Jungels, it was perfect," Van Avermaet said.
Jungels led out the sprint in Harelbeke which Stybar easily racked up ahead of Van Aert and Van Avermaet. On Sunday, there'll be more wind during Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields, which is likely going to make the race even harder than the sunny 2019 edition of the E3 BinckBank Classic.