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Van Avermaet backs himself for Olympic defense

Classics star plans season marked by monuments, Tour de France, and attempt at defending Olympic title.

Greg Van Avermaet (CCC-Team) feels that defending his Olympic title at the 2020 Games is a possibility.

The Belgian classics star spoke to Het Laatste Nieuws and explained that while the mountainous road race in Tokyo isn’t ideal for him, he’s still in with a chance.

“There will be people who think that the course in Tokyo is too heavy, but that was also true in Rio,” said Van Avermaet.

The Belgian won the 2016 Rio Olympics on a course packed full of climbing, outsprinting Jakob Fuglsang in the final. Being able to hold his own on the lumpy ground in 2016 gives him confidence for 2020.

“What has been successful in Rio is also possible in Tokyo,” he said.

The Tokyo Olympics route packs nearly 5000m elevation into its 234km route, including three major climbs. While Van Avermaet is no mountain goat, he’s more than at home on short punchy bergs such as those of his home country.

The long climbs of Tokyo have been drawing the eyes of grand tour stars, with Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, and Alejandro Valverde planning their season around a peak for the late-July race. Van Avermaet feels that he will go to Tokyo with every much a chance as these big star climbers however.

“The last climb is very tough, ten kilometers of climbing, but after that there are 30 kilometers to the finish on roads that go up and down: that is something for me. I have calculated that I can make up for a minute and a half there.”

Van Avermaet will head to Tokyo straight off the back of racing the Tour de France, and with just six days between the Tour’s finale in Paris and the Olympic race, rest and recovery will be a priority.

Given Van Avermaet is highly unlikely to be contesting the Tour’s overall classification, he has some advantage over his Olympic rivals also aiming at the yellow jersey, such as Froome and Primoz Roglic.  While the grand tour contenders will be racing through three weeks, the Belgian will be afforded the luxury of being able to ease off the throttle in the closing stages.

“Maybe I can ease off the gas in the last days of the Tour and then already start recovering,” he explained. “Stopping a week earlier would also be an option, but I think the sponsors will not be there for that.”

Van Avermaet will approach his whole 2020 with the summer in mind. The 2017 Paris Roubaix champion failed to register a big win in the classics this year. Instead, the 34-year-old had to settle for podium spots at E3 Binck-Bank Classic and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad as his biggest results.

“I was too good in Valencia and Oman,” Van Avermaet said, talking of the February stage races. “The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was my best course of the year.”

To avoid peaking too early for a second year, Van Avermaet plans to take it slow over winter, commiting to more rest before starting to prepare for classics season. He plans to race Tour of Algarve in 2020 rather than his usual preference for racing in Oman, with the later start of Algarve allowing him a more steady, sustainable build to the monuments.

Although Van Avermaet’s CCC team was outgunned in the 2019 classics, the addition of Matteo Trentin for 2020 will give the team an added edge, and provide a much-needed wingman for Van Avermaet at the pointy end of the action.

“I have often sat alone in the final this season,” said Van Avermaet. “As the only one of your team in a group of forty people, that cannot be managed.”

Could Van Avermaet take a monument and defend his Olympic title in 2020? It’s a big ask, but he thinks it’s possible.