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Van Avermaet sees relationship with Naesen unlocking future success

Ag2r-La Mondiale to embrace classics-focus from 2021 with Belgian pair at the forefront.

Ag2r-La Mondiale will go into 2021 with a new co-sponsor, newly-reinforced roster, and new focus in 2021.

The French team’s recent signing of cobbles star Greg Van Avermaet and a host of other one-day specialists and sprinters marks the squad’s future transition from stage racers to classics unit.

With Paris-Roubaix winner Van Avermaet set to join from 2021 and the exit of the team’s former talisman Romain Bardet, the newly-named Ag2r-Citroën will take on an entirely new flavor in 2021.

“At Ag2r they already have a very strong classic core,” Van Avermaet told Het Laatste Nieuws. “The focus within the team is now on that, where it used to be even more the Tour, they now turn a bit more towards the one-day work.”

Set to be called AG2R-Citroën to herald its incoming co-sponsor in 2021, the squad will be focused around the one-day races rather than the Tour de France with Bardet and Pierre Latour, who is also leaving at the end of the season.

Newly-signed Van Avermaet will unite with long-time friend and training partner Oliver Naesen at the French team, and he anticipated their relationship bringing them both future success.

Naesen has been the focus of the Ag2r-La Mondiale’s classics unit in the past years, with the 29-year-old scooping podium places at Milano-Sanremo and Gent-Wevelgem in recent seasons. He will now share responsibilities in the northern classics with his training buddy.

“We know each other’s strengths,” Van Avermaet said. “Hopefully it also clicks into the race and we can collect good results together. We can help each other to win races and expand our track record.”

With Van Avermaet now 35 and still hunting after that elusive Tour of Flanders victory, the Belgian sees a powerful wingman as the key to unlocking further success on the cobbles.

“I think that I am now also in a phase in my career where I am stronger with someone next to me who can also race finals,” he said. “This year we [CCC Team] tried that with Trentin, but – due to the circumstances – we haven’t really succeeded yet.”

Van Avermaet is one of a handful of strong signings for Ag2r-Citroën as it looks to recalibrate its ambitions. It was also confirmed this week that Van Avermaet’s longtime domestique Michael Schär and classics specialist Gijs Van Hoecke will be coming on board from CCC Team, while it was announced Tuesday that sprinter Marc Sarreau (Groupama-FDJ) and puncheur Damien Touzé (Cofidis) would also be joining in 2021.

With two strong leaders and a number of new faces set to join its pre-existing fleet of classics riders, Ag2r-Citroën is hoping to be up there with the big names in one-day racing.

“I think we’ll have a lot of people around our bus at the classics next year,” team manager Vincent Lavenu joked when speaking to Het Nieuwsblad.Maybe we will rival Deceuninck-Quick-Step,”