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Van Avermaet hopeful to hit peak in time for Flanders

The Belgian has been close to winning the past three seasons, and he hopes 2017 is his time to hoist the winner's trophy.

Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet of BMC Racing is in a race against time to reach top condition for his main objective at the Tour of Flanders, less than eight weeks away.

Van Avermaet underwent surgery in mid-November after fracturing his left ankle in a fall, and team officials are hopeful he’s on track following a successful season debut last week at the Volta a Valenciana in Spain.

The big question isn’t whether or not Van Avermaet will start, but rather in what condition he’ll be in for what’s his top early season goal. BMC Racing sport manager Allan Peiper said the team is cautiously optimistic.

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“He’ll be there; to be in top shape is another thing,” Peiper said during last month’s Santos Tour Down Under. “It is a long time to stretch it out from Het Nieuwsblad to Amstel Gold. His big focus is on Flanders, so everything before or after is part of the big picture. No one knows when their peak form will come — it might be right at Flanders, or it might be sooner or later — so we do not know how his late start to his winter training will affect his peak form.”

The Belgian veteran made it through the Volta a Valencia, wearing the leader’s jersey for two days following BMC’s team time trial victory. He lost the lead to Movistar’s Nairo Quintana on Saturday’s steep mountaintop finale.

“I am proud to have worn the yellow jersey for two days,” Van Avermaet said. “I think I have shown that I am already in good shape.”

Van Avermaet made the most of Valenciana, a different season debut for him following the cancelation of the Tour of Qatar. Next he will race at the Tour of Oman before diving into the spring classics. He’s lined up to defend his title at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and race Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in the opening classics weekend at the end of February. After that, it’s off to Italy for Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico (where he is also defending champion after a key mountain stage was snowed out last year), and Milano-Sanremo.

Then it’s back to Belgium and France for E3 Prijs Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, and Amstel Gold Race.

Van Avermaet’s progress is encouraging, especially since he was still using a cane to walk at a December training camp in Spain.

“He was walking around with a cane in December, but only to alleviate the pressure on his foot and to give it a better chance to fully heal,” Peiper said. “He was riding really good in training camp, amassing some good miles and posting some good numbers. I am surprised to see how well he is coming along, and I do not foresee any complication from that break earlier in the winter.”

Van Avermaet echoed that optimism. Flanders is his big dream, and after riding close to victory the past three years, he’s doing everything he can to be ready to fight for glory over the bergs this spring.

“I will be ready for the big battles,” Van Avermaet said at the team camp. “If you’re a Belgian rider, you want to win the Tour of Flanders. I’ve been close before, and I say it every year, I want to win it. I still have a few more chances.”