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You don’t get trophies in pro cycling for coming close. If you did, Greg Van Avermaet would have a box full.
The Belgian rode a solid 2013 campaign that saw him finish high on the results sheet at a passel of major spring races: third at Gent-Wevelgem; fourth at Paris-Roubaix; fifth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad; seventh at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).
He was close, just not close enough. A quiet winter and a few changes in training, he hopes, can change that. “I’m happy with my condition. I’m happy with my form. Everything went well, and I’m ready to start racing,” the 28-year-old told reporters at a BMC Racing media event last week. “[My] main goals are the classics, starting with Sanremo and ending in Amstel (Gold Race), I think, is the most important for me.”
Sanremo, of course, includes a new penultimate climb that lends itself to the puncheurs and opportunists of the peloton, both of which describe Van Avermaet. He will start his build to the classics in the Middle East, at the Tours of Qatar and Oman this month.
“It’s really difficult. It’s only big races I do. If you can win through Nieuwsblad until Amstel, spring has been good. So that’s the main goal. I was close to the win there, and I hope to improve there,” Van Avermaet said. He will be one of the BMC team’s focuses in the early cobbled races, as Philippe Gilbert is expected to turn his undivided attention to the Ardennes week races, which he swept in 2011.
“Last year I was already a leader in those races. This year will be even a little bit more pressure on me. But I think I can do it. And I’ve proved already that I’m ready to do a good result in those races. I’m happy I’m leader there and I can go my own chances,” Van Avermaet said. “It gives confidence for sure for a person like me. Fourth in Roubaix, seventh in Flanders. I am 28 now. I am strong and getting every year a little bit stronger.”
BMC has welcomed Allan Peiper aboard as its performance director, and is targeting races differently, in the grand tradition of ever-increasing specialization. “We go more for winning and not to just be there and try to do some good results. … I think if you see the names on the team and the results from last year, it was just not good enough,” Van Avermaet said.
BMC has endured its share of criticism for a lack of classics results, last year included. For a squad with Gilbert and Thor Hushovd, the classics results have been mixed at best. American Taylor Phinney delivered a 15th place at his first Paris-Roubaix in 2012, after winning the under-23 edition twice. Marry those riders to Van Avermaet’s consistency, which was good for a Flandrien of the Year award in 2013, and the results, in theory, should come.
“We were always there, but I don’t think we were 100-percent successful,” Van Avermaet said.
The team has welcomed some new training methods, according to Van Avermaet, that may help. At least he hopes so. “I hope it pays back, because it was hard… this was a big change we did,” he said. “We are working more with clear lines, and we just do what they tell us. You can see I’m not completely living by the numbers, but it’s good to have some numbers to see how good you are. In the end, it’s the feeling that counts also. But it’s good to see how good you and how you are performing.”
From the classics on, it’s anyone’s guess where Van Avermaet will go. The BMC Tour de France team will be centered on American Tejay van Garderen, and it’s not yet clear who will be on the roster.
“I don’t know yet if I’m going to Tour de France. I hope to go, yeah, but it’s always a difficult situation because we’re always going for GC, and we have a lot of riders who want to go to the Tour. For me, the most important point is always the classics,” he said. “For sure, it’s Flanders.”