Could it be three in a row for Greg Van Avermaet at the Belgian classics opener this weekend, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad?
A treble could be in the cards because a harder finish to this year’s course favors him even more than the past two editions he’s won. With a strong season debut, Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) said he’s “feeling stronger than last year” as the classics season approaches.
“It’s a nice finish,” Van Avermaet said Wednesday. “I also like the one before because I won on it twice, but this year it will be harder. It’s the old Tour of Flanders final, so it will be cool to race there and putting the Muur and the Bosberg back in a classic is always a good idea.”
Organizers have shaken up the Omloop finale, moving the finish line from its traditional finish in the bustling college town of Gent to Ninove, which was the Tour of Flanders finishing town until 2011.s
The final hour of racing will look very similar to the “old” Flanders course, and will include the Muurs Van Geraasbergen and the Bosberg in the closing 20 kilometers of racing.
That’s a big change from the former Omloop course, so the expectations are even higher that Van Avermaet will be able to become the first rider in Omloop history to win the race three years in succession.
“The course has changed this year and the final part of the race is harder than in previous editions and more suited to Greg,” said BMC sport director Valerio Piva. “With the Muur and the Bosberg in the final 20km, I think it will be more selective and we will see more attacking.”
BMC confirmed that Van Avermaet will also race in Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, an event he’s never won.
“My focus is always on [Omloop] and then Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne is always the re-match of the day before,” Van Avermaet said. “It’s not as hard as Omloop and it’s more of a sprinter’s race, but we will see how everything goes first on Saturday. I’m motivated for a good result at both races.”
Last year, Van Avermaet used his victory in Omloop as a springboard toward his near-perfect classics season. He later won E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, and Paris-Roubaix, and finished second at the Tour of Flanders.