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The Belgian rider has been a sure bet for a Tour ride for almost the last decade and has spent stints in the yellow jersey as well as winning two stages.
Van Avermaet thought he’d done enough to make the cut but he received a call from general manager Vincent Lavenu and sport director Julien Jurdie to say his services were not required for this summer.
“It was a hard decision to hear. Vincent and Julien, the sports directors, called me yesterday with the news that I wasn’t in the squad for the Tour de France. It was a big disappointment because I wasn’t expecting it,” Van Avermaet said in a press conference Thursday.
“They never said I would be 100 percent sure of the Tour, but I had the feeling I was not really replaceable in the team. It was a bit of a surprise. The main thing was that I was not climbing good enough at the moment to support the team on the hardest stages. That was the main explanation, I think. That’s why I’m not in the Tour.”
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AG2R-Citroën will go into the Tour de France with big ambitions as it aims for a strong general classification result with Ben O’Connor, as well as hunting for stage wins.
Though he is accepting of his team’s decision to leave him at home this July, Van Avermaet says he did have the strength to contribute to the team’s GC and stage goals. He believes that a slightly lackluster performance at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné triggered the decision, but he says that it wasn’t a good demonstration of what he was capable of.
“I’m not missing something [in the mountains], the Dauphiné for me is a preparation race and it’s something that is different to the Tour,” he said. “I had a big block before with some other races and the Dauphiné was not really a race for me, I did quite well in the stages I was able to do but in the mountain stages, I was just not good enough for doing something.
“I think that’s what made the management a bit panicky for not selecting me but to be honest I felt I was ready to ride the Tour. Maybe not at the level I was five or six years ago but still capable to do my thing, support, and maybe do something in a few stages for myself.”
Getting over the disappointment
For Van Avermaet, one of the biggest blows is not having the chance to go for glory on the cobbled stage 5. As a former winner of Paris-Roubaix, he would have been a major favorite for the stage victory on that day and could have played an important role in protecting O’Connor.
He had already been out to look at the stage earlier this year with O’Connor and fellow classics rider Oliver Naesen. There are other places where Van Avermaet believes he could have had an impact.
“The cobbled stage we did the recon with Ben and Oliver together. If you’ve done the recon before you know how the parcours is and that it will fit me well,” he said. “The last time we did the cobbles in the Tour, I was in yellow, and I finished second to John Degenkolb. For sure, it was a big goal for me to do as well as possible there also. And then Longwy [stage 6], I was already fourth a few years ago [in 2017 -ed], so those two finishes I already know. Then you have the big hectic start in Denmark and a few good stages in between, which are good for a breakaway.”
Van Avermaet, like many riders, has a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Tour de France, but he says that the bitter disappointment of missing out this season will take some time to absorb. It will also take him some time to figure out what his next major target will be.
“In the Tour, you love it, or you hate it. When you’re not there you miss it and when you are there it’s hectic. It’s a special race, but if you can win a stage or do something special it’s a thing you keep for your whole career,” he said.
“I think it’s important to get over the big disappointment. It’s not easy for me to handle it, for sure. It’s the first time in my career I was not able to manage it. Before, when I was young, we would make my program and we would say that we don’t do the Tour, but we’ll do this and that. Later in my career, I was almost 100 percent certain in May of my Tour selection. So, now it’s the first time in my career that I don’t achieve the goal of being selected for one of my favorite races. It’s quite hard to handle and it’s going to take a few days to change my focus on another plan.”