A Sunday in April without the Tour of Flanders will be unprecedented for racers and public alike.
Missing the Ronde van Vlaanderen this weekend is hard on any cycling fan. It’s even more agonizing if you’re a rider with the stature of Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team).
“It will be a strange feeling I think, but I think life in general is strange right now,” Van Avermaet told VeloNews. “When you go outside the streets are empty. You can still ride your bike in Belgium, but everyone is staying inside as much as possible. A lot of people will really miss the race on Sunday. It’s the biggest Sunday of the year. But at the same time, there are bigger things to worry about right now.”
The Ronde is such an integral part of the Flanders identity that missing out Sunday’s race is difficult to fathom.
And for Van Avermaet, who grew up dreaming of winning the race, it could mean one fewer opportunity at victory. Of course, confronting coronavirus comes first, but it still stings for any classics racer to sit at home instead of racing in one of the season’s most important one-day races.
“Things happened quite quickly, because when we were talking about races like Strade Bianche being canceled, it still seemed like we wouldn’t have a problem with the Belgian classics,” Van Avermaet said Tuesday. “But in the space of a week or two, everything had changed. Of course, I was disappointed when it was official, because maybe I was holding onto some small bit of hope that things would be OK.”
Van Avermaet was looking forward to a big 2020, with Flanders as one of the centerpieces of his season. Already a winner of Paris-Roubaix and the Olympic title, Van Avermaet regrets not having a shot at Flanders this week.
“Tour of Flanders was one of my big goals. It always is,” Van Avermaet said. “I’ve always said that it is the one race I want to win and I’ve been close so many times. So every year, I hope that it will be my year. I hope 2020 can still be my year.”
Like everyone else in cycling, Van Avermaet is waiting to see how things develop across Europe in the coming weeks and months. With the Olympics on hold until 2021 and the fate of the Tour de France uncertain, Van Avermaet is holding out hope he’ll be racing on the Belgian bergs later this season.
Similar to much of the rest of Europe, Belgium is in lockdown. While the virus is impacting Spain and Italy more intensely, Belgium is seeing an uptick in cases. Everyone — pro racers included — are doing what they can to move past the crisis.
Running the spring classics in the fall? Why not, says Van Avermaet.
“I think a Flanders in autumn could be just as nice as a Flanders in spring,” Van Avermaet said. “Without knowing when we can start racing again, it is hard to say. With the Olympics being postponed it does open up some more space in the calendar. So I think September could be a good time.”
Despite the gloomy situation right now in many parts of Europe, Van Avermaet is hoping the season isn’t a complete wash. While the classics and the Giro d’Italia are already canceled, many inside the peloton are hoping that racing can resume later this summer.
The UCI confirmed Monday it’s working with organizers to try to create a racing calendar for the second half of 2020. The rescheduling of the Olympic Games until 2021 opens up space on the calendar. Of course, everything depends on the evolution of the coronavirus crisis.
“Whatever happens with the races, I’m sure the monuments will have priority and they should,” he said. “It is important that we respect these races that have been part of the cycling calendar for so long.”
Like everyone else, Van Avermaet feels a bit of whiplash. Just a few weeks ago, he was training and building his form to hit a peak for the northern classics. And just as fast, much of Europe is on lockdown.
So instead of seeing huge crowds lining Oude Kwaremont this weekend, to celebrate Belgium’s biggest day of racing, fans are being told to stay inside.
And Van Avermaet will be among them Sunday, sitting at home in Dedermonde, wondering about missed chances, and hoping that he will have another shot at winning the Ronde before the year is over.
“Flanders will always be the most beautiful race for me,” Van Avermaet said. “When you grow up on these roads, train on them every day, it is a special race. Especially as you have your family and friends lining the course and you know where they will be so you look for them. It is the hardest of the classics and that’s what I like about it. It suits me as a rider because I am always at my best after five hours of hard racing.”
In such unprecedented times, a Tour of Flanders held in the fall would be just fine for the classics riders.