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Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Van Avermaet uses his experience to net surprise podium

'I’m surprised about the result as well because I didn’t have high expectations coming into this race' says veteran rider.

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NINOVE, Belgium (VN) — Former Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r-Citroën) surprised everybody, including himself, with a podium result in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday.

Belgian champion Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) destroyed the opposition in his first road race of the year but 36-year-old Van Avermaet was more than pleased to flank his compatriot on the podium in Ninove, Belgium.

Van Aert accelerated away on the Bosberg climb and increased his lead in the final 12km to the finish alone in Ninove. In the sprint for second place, European champion Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) held off Van Avermaet. Few experts had named the Belgian veteran for a podium result coming into the race.

“I’m surprised about the result as well because I didn’t have high expectations coming into this race. I used my experience today. I chose to follow the moves rather than trying to make the race like I do when I’m one of the favorites,” Van Avermaet told VeloNews at the finish.

“I felt that I was among the better riders but didn’t have any margin to play with so I banked on my sprint. Wout attacked in the toughest moment in the race. Everybody’s legs were hurting and that’s when he went. Once he was over the climb he was strong too because the co-operation in the chase group wasn’t too bad. I briefly thought we might be able to come back but that wasn’t the case.”

“The sprint here in Ninove is all about positioning with the final corner shortly before the finish. I was well-positioned there and knew the podium was within my reach. I briefly tried to get out of Colbrelli’s wheel but I quickly realized that just being there was good enough,” Van Avermaet added.

The 2016 Olympic champion struggled during the COVID-19 lockdowns and had low expectations coming into the Belgian ‘opening weekend’. After finishing third in the Omloop, Van Avermaet was asked how he turned the tide at the beginning of the 2022 season.

“I stayed off the bike for eight weeks. It was necessary to do that. It’s no fun being unable to ride at your level, to be dropped where that usually doesn’t happen. Today was really pleasant to be in the mix and get a nice result,” Van Avermaet said.

With this good result in the bag, Van Avermaet can focus on the future rather than dwell on the past. He was often a favorite and one of the protagonists during his beloved Tour of Flanders, but has yet to win the race.

It is the one race he would love to win in the final years of his career. “I’m not going to get carried away now. There’s other riders who are better. With a good Tirreno-Adriatico stage race I can maybe improve two percentages. De Ronde is a longer race which suits me too. Then again, the years where I had the best chance to win Flanders are behind me.”

Van Avermaet will race Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday and then he heads to Italy for Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo. The E3 Saxo Bank Classic kicks off the second part of his Spring campaign which includes the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, and concludes with Paris-Roubaix.