Now, four months later, the Belgian is contemplating the possibility of a season lost to coronavirus cancelations and is in fear for his team’s financial future. And, at 35 years old, Van Avermaet knows he may not have that many years left to play with.
“It is a bit frustrating, yes,” Van Avermaet said this weekend. “I [am at] an age where I can still perform at the top, and there may be several more years, but at the age of 35 it is a pity to lose a year. This [coronavirus] situation may cause my career some stretching.”
35 years of age is far from down-and-out, with many riders competing through their late-30s. Van Avermaet knows he still has time — but not much.
“How much stretch is there then? We will see… Once that is gone, I will stop cycling very quickly,” Van Avermaet told Sporza. “I can not put a number on it. An age to stop has never been in my head. I can’t go on for 10 more years, but certainly a few more years. ”
Having won Paris-Roubaix and the Olympic title, Van Avermaet has turned his attention to a victory at Tour of Flanders. De Ronde and an Olympic defense had formed the centerpieces of his 2020 season.
Having stepped on the podium at De Ronde three times but never taken the win, there was some irony to Van Avermaet’s victory at the virtual Tour of Flanders earlier this month. However, despite being a Flandrien classics specialist, Van Avermaet refuses to obsess over the race. “[To] keep racing until I have won De Ronde would be pathetic,” he said. “I have been on the podium three times and I am satisfied with that.”
While Tour of Flanders may re-appear on the calendar in fall this year, it has been confirmed that the Olympic Games won’t be back until 2021.
“I was also very motivated for that,” Van Avermaet said. “At the age of 35 I was able to drive a good result. Maybe next year too, but postponement is still a disappointment. I was well prepared.”
Van Avermaet had started the season with a CCC-Team bolstered by new-signings Matteo Trentin and Ilnur Zakarin, giving them extra cards to play both in the classics and stage races. However, with Polish backers CCC suffering heavily in the coronavirus crisis, the team has now suspended activity and rider pay has been slashed.
They say bad luck comes in threes, and after the Flanders and Olympics postponements, the team financial crisis completes the set for Van Avermaet.
“This is about survival, huh. The people of the staff are fired and also for the riders is it hard,” he said. “We are negotiating how to proceed and how to reach the end of the year. There are a lot of calls and messages. I try to take my responsibility, but these are things that are decided over my head. We have to find a compromise, but it is not easy. Everyone suffers from the situation.”
Like many others, Van Avermaet sees the Tour de France as the financial linchpin of the sport, and something that could make-or-break the finely-balanced economy of cycling. Race organizers are scrambling to re-schedule rather than cancel the race altogether as the originally-planned June start date becomes increasingly unlikely.
“Racing or not racing the Tour will have a major impact,” Van Avermaet said. “The publicity of the Tour is unmatchable. If the Tour drops out, we will speak of a lost year.”