Who says you cannot teach an old dog new tricks? At 35, Greg Van Avermaet is the first to admit he’s no longer the new kid on the block.
And with the peloton overflowing with fresh young faces, Van Avermaet says changes that come with his high-profile move to French squad Ag2r Citroën for 2021 after a decade within the BMC/CCC franchise is just what he needs at this stage of his career.
“At my age, it can be a good thing to get out of this comfort zone. It’s important to keep changing, to keep motivation high,” Van Avermaet said Thursday. “I will have a new trainer, new teammates, and a new team. Maybe that’s good for the head as well, especially at this point of my career.”
Van Avermaet joined the former BMC team in 2011 and rode with manager Jim Ochowicz through the end of this season. When the CCC Team collapsed under the financial strain triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, Ochowicz sold the team license to Wanty Groupe, and Van Avermaet was on the market.
“It is a bit strange to join a new team,” he said during a conference call with journalists Thursday. “I remember the first time I went to BMC and everyone was speaking English. Now it feels the same here, because it’s all French, and my French is not that great. I had a great time with Jim, and we had a nice dinner to end the story. I am super-motivated to open a new book, and to write some new pages in it. ”
Van Avermaet still hasn’t finished the script on his career, and it was the support and challenge presented by Ag2r boss Vincent Lavenu that convinced him to sign on with the French WorldTour team rather than go with a Belgian squad or a more classics-centric team.
“The most important thing was the confidence they still had in me when we spoke,” he said. “I’m not the youngest rider anymore, and they really wanted to push me at the end of my career. They believe that I still have big victories in me.”
A decade ago, it was the likes of Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan who were hailed as the peloton’s new stars. Flash forward to 2021, and riders such as Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel are muscling in on the top spots.
Van Avermaet insists the strongest always wins during the monuments but said the collective strength of Ag2r Citroën’s newly bolstered spring classics lineup, which also includes Bob Jungels, Micky Schar, Oliver Naesen, Alexis Gougeard, and Gijs Van Hoecke, can prove decisive.
“We have to work well together, that’s the most important thing,” Van Avermaet said Thursday. “We have such a strong generation coming up. It’s never easy to win the big races, but with our strength together, we can beat the young guys.”
Van Avermaet remains as ambitious as ever and has mapped out a sweeping calendar for 2021 that includes a run across the spring classics, the Tour de France, a defense of his gold medal in the Olympic Games, and a rare chance to win the rainbow jersey on home roads with the world championships slated for Flanders.
“It will be a challenging year,” he said. “Already with all the traveling with COVID, we will see how it works out. I hope to peak in those key moments.”
Van Avermaet said his eternal quest for the Tour of Flanders will remain the center of his ambitions during the spring classics, which will include most of the major dates from Strade Bianche all the way through the Amstel Gold Race, with an option to possibly race Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He will debut at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and Ruta del Sol in Spain ahead of the Belgian opening weekend of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
After that, it’s another summertime peak for the Tour de France and Olympic Games, which come a week after the Tour concludes in Paris. Despite the mountainous parcours confirmed for Tokyo, Van Avermaet said he believes in his chances to defend his gold medal from Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“The Tokyo course is difficult, but so was Rio,” he said. “Everything has to 100 percent to have a chance to win. I have the same feeling about Tokyo. It’s a really difficult parcours, but after the Tour de France, I always have good legs in the mountains. I hope that after this Tour de France I can have a good result in Tokyo.”
After that will come a rare chance to race for the rainbow jersey on home roads, with a Flanders-style course starting in Antwerp and ending in Leuven.