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Greg Van Avermaet racing for cobblestone fitness: ‘I am still searching for my best form’

Belgian superstar hopes to rediscover his winning legs just in time for a renewed assault on spring classics.

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CULLAR VEGA, Spain (VN) — Hope springs eternal for any classics rider, and that’s certainly the case for Greg Van Avermaet in 2022.

The Belgian superstar is revving up his engines at the five-day Ruta del Sol for yet another run across the bumps and bergs of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

Van Avermaet, 36, is in a race against time to hit his peak form in time for a charge at the ever elusive Flanders crown and a fresh run at Roubaix.

“I am still searching for my best form, but it’s coming up slowly,” Van Avermaet told VeloNews. “I keep on working, so hopefully I will be ready for the spring classics.”

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Van Avermaet enters the unknown this spring. After an uneven 2021 campaign that saw him hit a podium with third at Flanders, the Ag2r-Citroën captain later struggled in the second half of the season.

He was far from his best at the Tour de France and later missed selection to race the road worlds in Leuven last fall in what was a shocker.

A humbled Van Avermaet said he’s rebuilding from scratch, and simply wants to rediscover the winning legs that delivered him the gold medal in the 2016 Olympic Games and victory at Paris-Roubaix in 2017.

When VeloNews asked if the goal remains winning a monument this spring, Van Avermaet said before talking about winning Flanders or Roubaix, he must regain winning form.

“Baah, I hope, eh? Right now, I am not thinking too much about winning it,” Van Avermaet said. “I am just hoping to get my normal level back again, and of course if the results are getting better in these first races, I want to go for the win for sure.”

Van Avermaet is using Ruta del Sol and his season debut at Étoile de Bessèges earlier this month to blow out the cobwebs and build out his base fitness.

Most classics riders are usually flying by mid-February, but Van Avermaet said he’s still playing catch up in a race against the calendar.

“It’s going quite well, it’s quite a hard stage race, but we knew that by reading the profiles,” he said at the start line ahead of Saturday’s fourth stage. “Flanders and Roubaix are still far away, so hopefully I will be at my best in time for those big dates on the calendar.”

The Ruta course is riddled with climbs, so Van Avermaet is using the race intensity and speed to push the limits.

The first real test will come with the “opening weekend” in one week’s time with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

“I am doing both, and later Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico,” he said. “It’s always nice to start off strong in Belgium, so I am excited to see how far I can go in the opening weekend. It’s always the first big test of the year.”

Twice a winner at Omloop, Van Avermaet knows how important the first Belgian classics of the season are for all the cobblestone specialists.

“It’s important to be there, it’s a totally different effort than here,” he said. “It’s important to go hard in those first races, to test your condition, but to also see who is the strongest among the rivals.

“I hope to come out with a good feeling, especially a few weeks later with E3, Wevelgem, and Flanders, it’s always a good test.”