HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — Greg van Avermaet spent much of Friday afternoon on the attack.
“I took the race into my own hands,” van Avermaet told VeloNews after finishing third in the E3 Binck Bank Classic, two spots behind winner Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step). “It was a really hard day, and in the end we used a lot of energy to come back and the freshness of Stybar was the difference.”
After Bob Jungels surged into the day’s breakaway —a move that gave Deceuninck-Quick-Step a major strategic advantage—van Avermaet tried to counter tactics with strength. With 40 kilometers remaining van Avermaet surged over the Paterberg with an acceleration so great that only six other riders could follow.
A few kilometers later van Avermaet again rode hard on the front, just after the Oude Kwaremont, to urge the group onward. With 20km to go, van Avermaet put in a hard dig over the Tiegemberg, which dropped Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Oliver Naesen (AG2R-La Mondiale), and left just four riders: himself, Stybar, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), and Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First).
And finally, van Avermaet was the first of the four to launch his sprint inside 1km to go. His sprint was perhaps a few meters too early, and Stybar and van Aert sped around him in the final push to the line.
After the race, van Avermaet said he was content with his aggressive tactics on the day. Sure, Deceuninck had the numbers, but van Avermaet had the legs. Plus, there was brain behind his brawn, he said, because his efforts placed him in a position to win. Even if his legs lacked their usual pop in the finale, van Avermaet said that, without those surges, Jungels would have won.
“I went on the Paterberg and the Oude Kwaremont and then did a good tempo to keep the group together, because it was still a long way to [the finish in] Harelbeke,” van Avermaet said. “But the way we were riding was not so great, so I tried to do another effort on the Teigenberg, which was a good move and made it possible to close the gap to Jungels.”
Indeed, van Avermaet has spent much of his career battling against Deceuninck’s superior numbers at the cobbled classics. He is often a lone wolf fighting against multiple riders in blue. Even during his victories at Paris-Roubaix and E3 in 2017, van Avermaet found himself chasing Quick-Step riders, or sprinting against them, in the finale.
“It’s hard because they are the only team that has the freedom to go in the early move,” van Avermaet said. “We are always then having to chase, and we have some guy on our wheel who can profit from the work we are doing.”
Van Avermaet said his aggressive style on Friday was proof that his form has finally come around in time for Flanders and Roubaix, the races that define his annual campaign. Van Avermaet seemed to lack his usual pop at the early races Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo. Yet his domineering tactics at E3 gave him confidence that he will have the legs to contend at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
And perhaps his aggressive riding is the right way to overcome Deceuninck’s superior numbers.
And van Avermaet believes that these longer races—both Flanders and Roubaix are at least 30km longer than E3—will better suit his aggressive tactics. After all, the long routes and harder courses at the two Monuments often favor the strongest riders.
“These races are harder and longer,” van Avermaet said. “I am hoping it is more of a man-against-man race and we can profit from that.”