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Greg Van Avermaet decides to defer COVID-19 booster until after classics

Belgian rider says second COVID shot was to blame for his performance slump in the second half of 2021.

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Greg Van Avermaet has decided to defer his COVID booster vaccination until after the classics.

The Belgian veteran hopes the decision will help him hit top form for his 2022 spring campaign and avoid any post-vaccination slump in form.

The AG2R-Citroën star said he still plans to receive the booster, but he believes that the timing of his COVID shot last year was to blame for his disappointing second half of the season.

With an important racing period coming up, he’d rather risk deferring his third shot than potentially wrecking his chances on the cobbles.

“Especially in the second half of the season things didn’t go the way I wanted. I blame it on my vaccination. Since then, I no longer raced at a [high] level,” Van Avermaet said told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. “You really have to time it and I did it just before the Dauphiné, after a hard training period and just before a hard race. That was not a good idea.”

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Van Avermaet managed eighth at Paris-Camembert shortly after the Critérium du Dauphiné, but that was the highlight of the second part of his 2022 season.

Post-season tests showed that Van Avermaet was indeed struggling, and though there’s no concrete proof that it was the vaccine, he is not willing to take the risk ahead of the spring.

“Normally I am always good for a place in the top 10 or participate in the finals, now I even had a hard time in the grupetto in the Tour. I wanted to stop myself, but the team wanted me to continue, including for our classification man, Ben O’Connor, and I did. But then you wear your body further,” he said. “My blood values were not at the same level as tests in the autumn showed. My body was fighting against something. So, I’m not so keen on that third shot right now. I’ll have it after the classics, I think that’s the best option.

“I just want to get back to my old level, to combat and ride in the finals. I couldn’t do that in the second half of the 2021 season. Of course, I am a year older now, but I believe I can still do it. I was still able to do it in the spring of 2021, that cannot be gone, and I am still training hard for that every day.”

Not losing sleep

The 36-year-old Van Avermaet already dealt with a COVID infection, contracting it during his off-season break in November.

Fortunately, he did not suffer too badly with it, though he was trapped in a single room inside his house as he tried to avoid passing it on to his wife and children.

“I mainly suffered from loss of taste. I also isolated myself from Ellen [his wife] and the children for 10 days. I didn’t want them to get it. Then they cannot go to school, they are isolated,” he said. “I didn’t want to do that to them. So, I lived in a separate room for 10 days, my food being set out on a tray at the door. It was special, the kids looked at me like I was an alien.

“For the first time ever, I did nothing for 10 days, but absolutely nothing at all. I read the papers and I watched series, lots of series. Which? I don’t know, there were many. Sometimes it was nice to do nothing like that.”

The subject of COVID is never too far away from people’s lips as the omicron variant of the virus continues to sweep the globe. Jumbo-Visma dismantled its pre-season training camp after one of its riders tested positive for the virus.

AG2R-Citroën also had its own brush with COVID after four staff members tested positive for it, but the team has decided to push on with the camp.

“It’s a topic of conversation, but I don’t lose sleep over it. I continue to do what I always did, be very careful and take the necessary precautions. You can’t do more. Those four staff members have now gone home, we continue to train here and that is a good thing because you need a camp like this towards the start of the season,” Van Avermaet said.