SINT-MARTENS-LATEM, Belgium (VN) — Greg Van Avermaet claimed his first monument at last year’s Paris-Roubaix, but the Tour of Flanders has always been his first love. He has not had quite as successful a run-up to De Ronde this season as the one he enjoyed in 2017, but isn’t letting that get him down. Sunday’s race is a different beast altogether.
“I’ve always said that Flanders is the race that suits me the best,” he said at BMC’s pre-Flanders press conference. “It’s 250k. It’s different from Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. Harelbeke is really, really hard, but only 200k. Gent-Wevelgem is 250k but it’s less hard. It’s really specific kind of racing in Flanders, which makes it easier for me in the final. In the last 40k, there’s not too many contenders to go for the victory.”
His best result in the main run-up races was a third place at E3 Harelbeke, a race he won in 2017. He also won Gent-Wevelgem last year, for that matter. Still, the 32-year-old Belgian has been in the mix and looked fit in both events this year, and also in Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen. He insisted he feels fine as the main event looms.
“In the races, the power files, everything was similar to what I did last year,” Van Avermaet said. “I’m pretty happy with my condition. I’m there where I want to be. I’m really in top shape.”
Sports director Fabio Baldato pointed out that Van Avermaet had a bevy of wins in the run-up to Flanders last year, but that still didn’t lead to the win at De Ronde.
“We went to a race like Gent-Wevelgem and didn’t expect to win, and then we did any amazing race and he won. But we would change all those victories last year for one: the one on Sunday,” Baldato said.
Van Avermaet also stressed the importance of everything else working out perfectly in Flanders. That wasn’t the case for Van Avermaet in 2016, when he crashed out. It wasn’t the case last year either.
After Quick-Step’s Philippe Gilbert soloed clear of the other contenders at the 2017 Tour of Flanders, Van Avermaet formed a powerful chase group with 2016 winner Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale). They rode well together in pursuit of the Walloon star, but all three came down in a crash when Sagan got tangled up with a spectator’s jacket hanging on the roadside barrier. That spoiled their chase, although Van Avermaet did still manage to finish second.
The 2016 Olympic champion did not hesitate to tip Quick-Step as the team to watch again this season.
“You can’t deny Quick-Step has four or five riders on a super high level,” he said. “For sure they are the favorites for Sunday, which is normal if you’ve watched all the classics up until now. But we have a strong team and we also have to believe in ourselves. We’ve been at a really high level. It’s a different kind of tactics in Flanders than anywhere else.”
To BMC’s credit, the American-based team has looked strong as well this classics season, despite the lack of results. Jürgen Roelandts and Stefan Küng have survived deep into the races and figure to be at Van Avermaet’s side again on Sunday.
If they can muster another strong effort to protect Van Avermaet into the final at the Tour of Flanders, he will surely be a favorite to nab the win he’s been hunting for so long. That may require dropping classics heavyweights like Sagan or Gilbert. Then again, Van Avermaet said he was feeling very confident in his sprint should it come to that.
In any case, he’ll need to stick to his plan and stay safe on the treacherous cobblestones if he wants to contend. On Friday, he laid out an overall strategy that actually sounded pretty simple: “Go as hard as possible and don’t take any jackets with you.”