Whilst Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) finally took a win after a long spring of near misses, another rider who was hoping to turn his Classics campaign around at Liège-Bastogne-Liège was Greg Van Avermaet (CCC), who only signed up to race La Doyenne at the last minute to try and salvage his early season.
Things didn’t go to plan for the Belgian, however, who failed to replicate Fuglsang’s heroic save as his back wheel slipped with 5km remaining, as he crashed in almost exactly the same spot, eventually finishing seven minutes back.
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Explaining what happened after crossing the finish line, Van Avermaet said: “We were working hard to come back to the leading group in front of us and we were all working well together but unfortunately on the last corner Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) crashed in front of me and I couldn’t avoid it.
“There was nothing I could do and from that point on my race was done. At first, I thought it was a bigger crash but after a couple of minutes I got back on my bike to try and see how I felt, and some of the initial stiffness went away which was good.”
This bad luck underlines an unfortunate early season for Van Avermaet, who has struggled to produce the kind of performance people have come to expect from the Olympic champion. His spring record shows only one top-10 finish in a Monument this spring at the Tour of Flanders with his best races being podium places at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the E3 BinckBank Classic.
“Of course, it’s a disappointing end to my Classics season,” said the 33-year-old.
“I was expecting more from this race and I was happy with how I was feeling but in the end, we didn’t get the result I think the team deserved.
“We did a good job together. The guys were great at bringing [Alessandro] De Marchi and me into position for every climb and we were able to cover almost every move, so I think we can take some positives away from that. It is just a pity about the crash.”
CCC sports director, Valerio Piva, was confident that Van Avermaet was on for a top-10 finish had he not crashed.
“Greg’s group was almost catching the small group in front and I think, if the crashed hadn’t happened, there was definitely a chance for a top 10 finish or better,” Piva said.
“The crash happened on the descent towards the finish, at the point where we also saw Fuglsang almost go down. We knew we needed to pay attention there but unfortunately around three or four riders went down with him on that corner.
“It is, of course, a pity and disappointing because he was looking good and the team was really present in all of the moves. I am happy with how the team rode. It is a shame that at the end of a race like this, one which had a lot of dangerous moments in the rain, that it was at the last moment that Greg crashed.”
Luckily, Van Avermaet’s crash has not caused him any serious injuries, with the rider set to take the start line in Doncaster on Thursday May 2 for the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire.
His team doctor, Dr Michel Cerfontaine, said: “Fortunately, after an initial examination, it looks like all of Greg’s injuries are superficial. He came down heavily on his right side and has some bruising. He also suffered abrasions on his right hip and knee as well as a cut on the right elbow. We don’t expect him to have to make any changes to his race program at this time and after a few days everything should be fully healed.”