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Van Avermaet ‘more solid and confident’ as monuments start

Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet heads to the spring's biggest races with newfound confidence and an appetite for a big win.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Belgian classics star and Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet is “much more solid and confident” heading into the 2017 monuments compared to 2016, says BMC Racing.

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Van Avermaet already won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (which he did in 2016 as well) and placed second in Strade Bianche. He starts the monument classics Saturday with Milano-Sanremo and continues with the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, April 2 and 9, respectively.

“He’s Greg from last year but much more solid and confident,” BMC Racing sport director Fabio Baldato told VeloNews.

“The victories gave him that. He didn’t lack it, but maybe he was more nervous before. This is a security for the team and for him.”

He began his 2016 campaign similarly with a win in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the Tirreno-Adriatico overall and fifth place in Milano-Sanremo. He was the hot favorite, but the BMC crashed en masse in Belgium’s big one, the Ronde van Vlaanderen or the Tour of Flanders, and Van Averment broke his collarbone.

All looked lost, but Van Avermaet was victorious elsewhere. He won stage 5 in the Tour de France and wore the yellow jersey for three days. Then he went to Rio de Janeiro and struck gold in the Olympics road race.

“I made a big step and want to do same this year,” Van Avermaet said in Tirreno-Adriatico last week. “I was one of strongest in rankings in the WorldTour. I’m one of best classics riders and accept my responsibility. I want to win races.

“I want to win one of the big classics. I was once always there in the big monuments, taking second and third, but now I want to win one of them.”

The early monuments — Sanremo, Flanders, and Roubaix — are different without Fabian Cancellara, winner in all three, who retired last year. BMC Racing now must take more of the responsibility with teams like Quick-Step for Tom Boonen and Bora-Hansgrohe for Peter Sagan.

“The team may end up being one of the favorites, and if we need to, we can take that weight on our shoulders,” Baldato continued.

“It’s better to have the confidence that you can make the race. The other teams will try to put us in danger, but we must race well. We have riders who can go in anticipation. We showed that we can handle those situations.”

The team changes slightly this spring. Taylor Phinney now races for Cannondale-Drapac and Michael Schär sits out with a broken collarbone suffered in Paris-Nice.

“But we have Stefan Küng; he was up there in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche. The team has the same equilibrium.

“Unfortunately, we lost Schär. He was truly a big reference point for us. But we have Martin Elmiger, with much experience. He knows the races well and he can substitute Schär. So we have the team and we have the captain,” Baldato added.

Van Avermaet will captain the team in Milano-Sanremo with Elmiger, Damiano Caruso, Silvan Dillier, Daniel Oss, Manuel Quinziato, Miles Scotson, and Francisco Ventoso.