GENT, Belgium (VN) — Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) wants to wreak revenge on Paris-Roubaix following his oh-so-close performance in last weekend’s Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).
Bolstered by his thrilling, second-place Flanders ride, the 28-year-old Belgian wants to pour his frustration into the pedals over the Roubaix pavé.
“I think Flanders is fitting better for me than Roubaix, but last year, I was seventh in Flanders and fourth in Roubaix,” Van Avermaet told VeloNews. “I am happy with my form. I will be ready for Sunday. It’s all about form. I will see how far I can go. I am looking to making a good result and having a good race.”
By his own admission, the sleek, 6-foot-1 Van Avermaet is better suited for Flanders, but Roubaix is often decided on pure strength. And on that score, Van Avermaet knows he’s a step ahead of most of the field right now.
Only Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) could better him in Flanders, so he hopes to carry that momentum into Roubaix with a strong BMC team that also includes Thor Hushovd and Taylor Phinney.
Van Avermaet said the bittersweet taste of being so close, yet so far at Flanders will double his motivation for Sunday’s Roubaix.
“I am happy, but it was a big chance to miss. For a rider like me from Flanders, I was so close, so I am also a little bit disappointed,” he said Wednesday before the start of Scheldeprijs. “It’s a big difference from being second to winning the race. Let’s see what happens in Roubaix.”
BMC raced a near-perfect race last weekend, putting Flanders rookie Phinney into the early breakaway before Van Avermaet attacked from 31 kilometers out.
Van Avermaet was keen to make the most of the opportunity to lead BMC as the lone captain for the first time, and uncorked a daring, long-distance raid that nearly paid off with a victory.
“It was my call to attack at that moment. I had it in my head. I had ridden the parcours many times, and I knew that was when I wanted to go,” he said. “I think it was a good choice to make the attack, and to make the race hard.”
That long-distance attack drew out Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and the pair cleared the final passages over the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg ahead of the leading challengers. Under team orders, Vandenbergh sat on his rival’s wheel, waiting to see if one of his Omega Pharma teammates could later bridge across.
“I can understand his situation, because it was the team choice, and he is not as fast as me in the sprint, but when we had one minute, I was hoping that he would work a little bit with me,” Van Avermaet said. “But that’s cycling, and I can understand that he did not want to work, but for me, it was not such a nice feeling.”
When Cancellara and eventual podium man Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) bridged out, the winning move was cemented. Cancellara jumped with 250 meters to go, and Van Avermaet, who usually packs a strong finishing punch, couldn’t come around his Swiss rival.
“It was a [bad] situation, because we were three Belgian guys, and a Swiss won,” Van Avermaet said. “That’s cycling. We’re all wearing different jerseys. The race is over. I am happy with my race.”
Upping his game
For Van Avermaet, this spring classics campaign marks a new beginning.
After being touted as a possible Flanders winner since riding to eighth in 2008 in just his second Flanders start, Van Avermaet has been a consistent classics performer, but one who’s been unable to punch through to the top level.
Sunday’s second-place result is his first major classic podium despite six top-10s in cycling’s so-called monuments, the five major classics that include Milano-Sanremo, Flanders, Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Giro di Lombardia.
“I was there already a few years, but I have taken a step up, so I am happy about that,” he said. “Every year I’ve taken little steps.”
Van Avermaet is unique in that he is one of the few classics riders who can handle the punishment that comes with the cobblestones in races such as Flanders and Roubaix, but who’s also sleek enough to race in hillier classics, like Liège or Lombardia.
This year, he’ll race through Amstel Gold Race on April 18, but will not partake in Flèche Wallonne or Liège. His next major goal is to try to make BMC’s competitive roster for the Tour de France.
At 28, Van Avermaet feels like he’s just hitting his stride. After walking away from a possible pro soccer career, Van Avermaet came late to cycling, but had the innate talent to turn pro at 19 years old in 2006.
He’s picked up wins along the way, including a stage at the Vuelta a España in 2008, but the classics are his natural calling.
After knocking on the door for a half-decade, Van Avermaet has hit a new level in 2014, with a second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to go along with his Flanders result. Behind-the-scenes changes at BMC are also paying dividends.
“It was so nice to there, to be second on the podium, and to give me confidence that I am getting closer to the highest level in cycling,” he said. “I am one of the best classics riders now, and that’s a nice feeling.”