The Belgian Olympic champion picks out the moment he felt things began to turn his way in his career
He is ready to embark on his 2017 campaign riding a wave of success. In 2016, he took the Tirreno-Adriatico title, won a stage and wore the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, and capped the season with a gold medal in Rio de Janeiro.
“If I had to decide a moment when it clicked in my head, it was probably the 2015 Tour stage to Rodez, where I beat Peter Sagan,” Van Avermaet told Spain’s AS newspaper.
“The victory, its prestige, and in front of a great champion, gave me more confidence. I made good progress in 2015. I always saw myself in the fight, and I got results that, by 2016, gave me that extra edge.”
The 31-year-old Belgian fired from the beginning of 2016. He beat Sagan, by then a world champion, to win the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. With the summit stage cancelled due to snow, he won the Tirreno-Adriatico overall.
The only black spot, a broken collarbone suffered in the Tour of Flanders.
“2016 has simply become my best season as a professional. I missed my favourite races, such as Flanders, Roubaix and Amstel because of that fall, but I think a stage in the Tour, Tirreno, Het Nieuwsblad, the Games, Montreal… are first class wins,” he added.
“I feel very proud of my campaign. Especially for my gold in Rio and for having competed consistently throughout 2016. At last, I can say that I am where I wanted to be. Although I fought for many years to get it, at 31 and I am at the top of world cycling.”
BMC Racing gave Van Avermaet the sole leadership roles in races. With Philippe Gilbert gone to Quick-Step for 2017, that role becomes even clearer.
Van Avermaet will aim at the Classics he missed in 2016 due to his broken collarbone and the Worlds later in Norway.
“If you’ll let me just pick one, Flanders. That race is everything for a Fleming, for a Belgian,” he said. “I would like to win in Roubaix and Amstel, although prolonging the form in spring is complicated. And of course, the rainbow jersey. The course in Norway suits me well.”
Van Avermaet spoke while recovering from a broken ankle suffered while mountain biking in November. Cycling Weekly magazine will publish a full interview with him next week.