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Even pros are fans of Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert

Greg Van Avermaet says dynamic duo 'are the main players now' in the spring classics.

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Greg Van Avermaet is a bike racing fan just like everyone else. The Belgian won in the gene pool lottery, and then piled on the hard work to reach the top of the peloton.

Now that he’s there, he admits that the cycling fan inside him is enjoying the rise of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel just as much as everyone else is.

“I love to see them race,” Van Avermaet said. “It’s something great for cycling. It’s cool to see it, even as a pro cyclist.”

That glee might diminish once he’s racing against the two rising stars later this spring, but Van Avermaet is unabashedly a fan of cycling’s new sensational talents.

“I really like both of the characters they have. They are different,” Van Avermaet said Tuesday. “They are so strong. It’s kind of cool to be in this generation to race against them.”

Among the peloton’s classics riders, van der Poel and van Aert are on everyone’s minds. The dynamic duo, joined at the hip since they were junior riders, are emerging as the new bosses of the bunch.

“They are the main players now,” Van Avermaet said. “They are big talents and they have the capacity to prove they are strong in these big races.”

Van Avermaet admits it will be a tactical puzzle to try to beat them. He’s hoping his 15 years of experience in the peloton will keep him in the mix this spring.

“They are young, and they will be there as the main favorites,” Van Avermaet said. “There are some other names they have to beat. I think those two will be the next generation, and you have to be there in the key points to be there to beat them and win races.”

Their growing rivalry will play out across the 2021 season. Van der Poel got a one-up on van Aert last year at the Tour of Flanders, winning in a two-up sprint, but van Aert won Milano-Sanremo, giving them one monument apiece.

While van der Poel and van Aert are taking a breather after a thrilling cyclocross worlds, Van Avermaet debuts his new campaign at the Etoile de Bessèges this week.

Already a winner at Paris-Roubaix, E3 Saxo Bank Classic, Gent-Wevelgem and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the only feather missing in his cap is the race he wants to win most — Ronde van Vlaanderen.

After racing under the BMC/CCC banner since 2011, Van Avermaet moved across to Ag2r- Citroën to join longtime buddy and riding partner Oliver Naesen. The 2016 Olympic champion is hoping a new coach and new jersey will give him fresh wings in 2021.

“Even as an older rider, as I am, you still have to be open about the new evolutions in the sport,” he said. “That keeps me motivated to see what I did in the past, that maybe was not bad, but maybe was not the best, and find a balance with the experience you have and the new things they can teach you. It’s cool to still learn, and it’s also motivating myself to do better.”

Van Avermaet knows he needs to be at his absolute best to win this spring. After riding in the closing years of the Tom Boonen-Fabian Cancellara rivalry, now he’s got a front-row seat for the classic’s newest one.

AG2R-Citroën rides on wet cobbles
AG2R-Citroën checks equipment on a rain- and mud-slicked cobbled sector on the Paris-Roubaix route last week. Photo: AG2R CITROËN TEAM / KBLB