Greg Van Avermaet’s BMC Racing team-mates may have taken control on the plugstreets at Ghent-Wevelgem, but the defending champion lacked team support after the race split on the final ascent of the Kemmelberg.
Riding in a group of 23 that included four riders from Quick-Step Floors and two each from EF Education-First Drapac, Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij, and Bora-Hansgrohe, Van Avermaet lacked team support to help position him for the sprint and ended up attack in the finale, eventually finishing 14th behind race winner Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
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“We wanted to make the race hard and get a result,” Van Avermaet said. “We tried as much as possible to make the race hard, but I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t do better in the end of this race because I had super good legs, I was feeling really good. But I made some mistakes I think in the end.
“It would also be nice if I had some extra support in the sprint but I had to find my own way. It was a big group and I’m not great in sprints from a big group. It’s nice to have some guys to lead you out, but this didn’t happen.”
Van Avermaet stormed through the Classics season in 2017 with wins in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix.
Despite having picked up just one Classics top 10 in 2018 (at E3 Harelbeke) the Belgian says that he is reaching peak fitness just in time for a try at his first Tour of Flanders title on Sunday and a defence in Paris-Roubaix the following week.
Watch: Cobbled Classics guide 2018
Aside from Quick-Step Floors, BMC looked the strongest at one point in Ghent-Wevelgem with Stefan Küng, Michael Schär, Alberto Bettiol and Francisco Ventoso driving the group over the gravel plugstreets. But when the Kemmelberg was ascended for the second time with 34km to go, the BMC presence melted away to leave the Olympic champion isolated in to the front group.
Quick-Step drove the race towards Wevelgem for the eventual sprint, where team leader Elia Viviani placed second. Van Avermaet tried an attack with 1.5km to go and Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac) attempted one of his own in the final kilometre.
“Winning was going to be hard and I hoped that some guys would join me [in the attack], that there would be some hesitation in the group and we’d get a small gap. But then I think some guy closed it and it was hard to get back in position and hard to do a good sprint.”
“In contrast with other years, there was too little wind for echelons,” added Belgian Vanmarcke, who finished in 21st position.
“But in the hilly zone [between 114km and 34km remaining] , there was hardly any fear for what was yet to come. The coastal section [between 198km and 164km to go] was also a fight, but then nothing happened. I tried to make the race hard on the Kemmelberg and get away with a group. It was in vain, unfortunately. “
Van Avermaet and Vanmarcke race the Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday ahead of the Tour of Flanders on April 1 and Paris-Roubaix on April 8.
“Like I said at the start of the year, the results last year were super good,” said Van Avermaet. “Everything went perfectly, especially here in Wevelgem, which is a hard race for me to win.
“Feeling-wise, I have the same feeling as last year, maybe even a little bit better. I’m happy with my form, I’m happy with my legs and I hope to get a result in the coming races.”