Greg Van Avermaet is still waiting for his first Classics victory in the new orange colours of CCC Team. After second place in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend, hopes were high for a warm edition of Strade Bianche on Saturday, but the Olympic champion had to settle for sixth place in the group behind the winning move.
Van Avermaet, who is the talisman of the team that rose from the old BMC Racing set-up, helped split the race on the long seventh and eighth sectors of the eponymous gravel tracks, creating an elite 15-rider selection.
However, when Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) attacked on the first of the three final short-but-steep sectors, taking eventual winner Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and third-placed Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) with him, Van Avermaet was unable to respond.
"When Fuglsang accelerated, I was just a little too far away. Then Alaphilippe went, but I did not have the legs to jump with him," Van Avermaet said, according to Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws.
"I soon realised that Alaphilippe had a super day. He rode very easily in the group and I knew he would be hard to beat. I had a good day, but not a top day, like last week in the Omloop and like you need to win here."
Van Avermaet was then forced to ride in what was an incohesive chase group behind the three leaders. Crucial was the presence of two of Alaphilippe's teammates, former Strade Bianche winner Zdenek Stybar and Yves Lampaert. They naturally sat in, and any attempt at a controlled chase would have given them an armchair ride back into contention.
"I tried after that but, as often in a chasing group, it did not turn out too well. Someone attacks, then it falls silent again, and then you know that it will be difficult," Van Avermaet said.
"I'm not disappointed. The strongest man in the race won. Last week that second place came harder than now that sixth place. I tried, but it did not work. Now the focus is on the Tirreno-Adriatico and I hope to be ready for the other races."
Tirreno-Adriatico starts in Italy next week, after which Van Avermaet will ride Milan-San Remo ahead of the main cobbled Classics period.