Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) had his first taste of the 2019 UCI Road World Championships circuit on Friday as stage 2 of the Tour de Yorkshire navigated the 16.5km finishing circuit for the event, which will take place in September.
Stage 2 between Barnsley and Bedale was won by Katusha-Alpecin’s Rick Zabel, but for Van Avermaet an element of focus was on testing his legs on the Worlds finishing circuit, which came roughly half-way through the stage.
Belgium will only announce their Worlds team closer to the event, and while a number of riders will come to Yorkshire in the coming weeks and months to recon the course, it’s highly likely that Van Avermaet will spearhead the Belgian challenge. The Olympic road race champion has never won a road world title and at almost 34 years of age the number of opportunities are disappearing. However, the former Paris-Roubaix winner was optimistic after his first outing on the course.
“It’s probably one of the last chances for me. We still have Belgium, but this is maybe one of the best for me. Richmond in 2015 was also good and a parcours that I liked a lot. This circuit is a little less hard than Richmond but it’s demanding and the first part is also hard with some long climbs,” Van Avermaert said.
“This circuit is going to be demanding though because you’re constantly having to sprint out of the corners and almost every corner feels like it’s uphill. That makes it hard to adjust and after 290 kilometres everyone is going to be really tired. Maybe there’s going to be quite a big group still but everyone there is going to be tired.”
Earlier in the day the women’s field had their chance to race over the same parcours. The Dutch duo of Marianne Vos and Annemiek van Vlueten had both pointed out to Cyclingnews that the Worlds course would be a battle of attrition and that riding near the front would be crucial. The Dutch riders also stressed that rain could also play a significant factor, making the race harder to control and more technical in certain areas.
The local press in Yorkshire has talked up the chances of Mark Cavendish, although both Van Avermaet, and the sprinter himself, have downplayed the British rider’s chances. Instead, Van Avermaet believes that a rider such as Matteo Trentin, who won the European Championships in Glasgow last year, has an ideal chance in Yorkshire.
“Rain on this parcours is going to make for a big change. It’s going to be like Glasgow where the European Championships were held last year. You’re going to have to stay near the front a lot and it suits the Classics riders but also some of the good sprinters as well. With someone like Mark Cavendish he’s going to have to have a really good day but with him you never know. I think it’s more about the strong sprinters like Trentin who can survive a climb.”
As for Van Avermaet, who arrived at the Tour de Yorkshire as the defending champion, this has been a long spring. He came through the first two stages and is still confident that he can play a role in the decisive final two days of racing. “It’s been a long spring for me and I’m not feeling so great. I should be able to still be in front with this peloton though.”